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Texas Faith 135: When is a city ban on feeding the poor an infringement on religious liberty?

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Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

When is a city ban on feeding the homeless in a public place an infringement on religious freedom?

In Florida, a 90-year-old WWII veteran was arrested for feeding the homeless at a public park. He’s been doing it for over 20 years through a program called Love Thy Neighbor. But a new ordinance in Fort Lauderdale has put a mountain of obstacles in the way, making it virtually impossible for the group to operate as it has.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On one side are local businesses that fear feeding the homeless in a conspicuous place was bad for business and tourism. On the other side are advocates of Love Thy Neighbor who say the group is within its constitutional rights. The city tried to balance the interests of both sides with rules aimed at moving such homeless programs into houses of worship or private property. But the organization wants to continue feeding the homeless as it has, in a seaside public park.

   The clash between religious rights and the public interest is a common story line. We’ve weighed in on the dustup in Houston in which the city tried to subpoena the sermons of evangelical ministers opposed to a gay-rights ordinance. And every week, it seems, there’s a new report in which the advocates of religious liberty decry a rule or action at a public school.

Religious liberty isn’t absolute. There’s no right to hold a serpent-handling service at Disneyland. Or to shout “fire” in a crowded church because your religion told you to. Or to build a megachurch in a city neighborhood with a parking lot for only 10 cars.

In the case of feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, the name of the organization is from a biblical injunction. Its mission is an act of faith. And if some businesses are inconvenienced or tourists would prefer not having to see the homeless by the beach, whose rights should prevail?

That’s this week’s question: Is a city ban on feeding the homeless in a public place an infringement on religious freedom?

 

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

 

Every body needs a head. So similarly, every society needs saintly intellectuals for guidance. Leadership without such guidance is like a body without a head. Leadership is like the arms of the social body which provides protection and business class is like the belly which facilitates the distribution of goods. All parts of the body are important but the head is the most important for it is the head of body that provides intelligence.

Intelligence means the ability to accommodate and manage two opposing values. It also means the ability to discriminate that which is śreyas, of long term substantial benefit, and preyas, immediate or short term gratification. The short term benefit of commerce is important but it is considered shallow in comparison to charity which can have long lasting or even eternal benefits.

Krishna states that charity, when done properly, even purifies great souls. To completely ban charitable distribution of food in relation to the value of commerce is sign of the lack of saintly intelligent guidance among our leaders.

 

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.