Adobe Stock | Inset: AZFamily _ Arizona News / YouTube

An Arizona church is suing the City of San Luis and charging officials with allegedly stopping its charitable food distribution to families and people in need. Conservative legal firm First Liberty Institute and law firm Snell and Wilmer L.L.P. filed for the District of Arizona on behalf of Gethsemani Baptist Church. Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, told CBN News that the church, led by Pastor Jose Manuel Castro, is close to the U.S.–Mexico border and has long served those in need.

Dys said, noting people all over the region have benefited from Gethsemani Baptist Church, “Here’s a church that has, for the last 25 or 30 years, been present in that community and caring for its people by handing them for when they need it.” The attorney said the house of worship recently found itself in the crosshairs over truck deliveries that reportedly violate city codes in the church’s zoning district. According to AZ Family, local municipal codes state that commercial vehicles of over one-and-a-half tons cannot be in residential lots.

An incident last summer in which a truck hit a fence outside a nearby home and neighbors complained, reportedly sparked code enforcement, according to AZ Family. The church purportedly covered repairs, but the situation has devolved. Increased tensions have led the church to pause food outreach and take legal action. According to First Liberty, the City of San Luis has “issued [two] fines and threatened criminal charges for parking transport trucks in the church’s parking lot.” Dys said this is a shocking development after a previously friendly relationship between the city and the church.

Dys said, “The church has done what it has always done and so there’s really been no change on the end of the church. They’ve just been simply trying to care for people in their community.” The attorney said the election of a new mayor seemed to coincide with Gethsemani Baptist Church’s newfound struggles — a battle that has caused the church to pause its longstanding food outreach. He said the battle seems to be based on the church’s use of a semi-truck to deliver the food for outreaches. Dys said ordinances preclude the church from having the truck on the church’s property, despite the outreach unfolding there since 1999 purportedly without significant incident.

Dys also charged that Gethsemani Baptist Church is being “singled out” and ticketed while at least one other establishment is allowed to receive food deliveries similarly. A press release states, “The church and its pastor cannot afford the city’s heavy fines and fear that more citations could result in the pastor going to jail.”

“It’s only this church that is being singled out, ticketed and fined for trying to feed the hungry,” he said, noting the pastor of the church is worried these charges could intensify. “The church has been forced to suspend their ministry until this lawsuit resolves the problem.” Dys said he is hopeful the lawsuit will enable the church to resume its ministry to those in need.

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