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The Town Council in in Gilbert, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb of about 217,000 residents (and currently one of the fastest growing municipalities in America) is moving quickly to change a zoning code that technically prohibits Bible study groups and other “religious-assembly uses” in single-family homes.
Gilbert officials have received hundreds of critical emails in the past few months, along with unprecedented media scrutiny, ever since the zoning administrator upheld a cease-and-desist order issued to the evangelical Oasis of Truth Church for its gatherings of about a dozen people at a pastor’s home. The town’s apologetic mayor and interim manager apparently worshiped with the group on Sunday, in a show of support.
The zoning change is expected to be discussed by the town council next week.
In my own reporting, I’ve noticed that church-state conflicts play out a bit differently in communities than they do on a national scale, perhaps because people know each other and there are fewer factions to appease? Several years ago, I was surprised that Redwood City, a San Francisco suburb, had opening prayers at its City Council meetings, but no one else seemed to bat an eye as long as different denominations each got a turn.