Joan Cheever uses a food truck to cook nice meals for the homeless in San Antonio. Her practice is driven by her religious beliefs, she says. It is her ministry. The City of San Antonio, however, argues that her practice violates food transportation ordinances, and ticketed her.
Cheever counters that the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects her homeless ministry as an exercise of her religion. RFRA is the type of law many states are wrestling with this year, and was the topic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Hobby Lobby.
The Washington Post reports:
Cheever may even take her protest to the next stage. She says says she’s considering filing a lawsuit against San Antonio on the ground that her religious freedom was violated, potentially setting religious freedom and local laws on another collision course. “I shouldn’t be the one on the hot seat here,” she said. “This is about every church group or individual who wants to serve a meal. It’s terrible to criminalize the poor, but it’s just as bad to say to the good Samaritans that you’re a criminal too. The Bible says, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me,’ and I take that seriously. This is the way I pray, and we’ll go to court on this.”
Cheever’s ticket carries a potential fine of $2000.
This is not the first time a RFRA law has been used to combat regulations impacting a homeless feeding ministry. In 2013, a federal judge ruled a Dallas law violates the religious freedom rights of a homeless ministry under Texas RFRA. The previous year a Pennsylvania judge reached a similar conclusion regarding a Philadelphia ordinance.