City Threatens Family With $250 Per Day Fine For Weekly Prayer Meeting In Home
Venice, FL – A family in Venice, Florida, is facing fines of $250 per day for having an unauthorized “house of worship” in their home. Shane and Marlene Roessiger host a prayer meeting on Friday nights with 6-10 people normally in attendance. City officials made a finding that the Roessigers hold a prayer meeting at their residence once per week and as such ordered them to come into compliance with the City’s Code which does not allow a “house of worship” on a property of less than 2 acres.
The Roessigers head a small ministry called In Him Healing Touch Ministries. Like many small nonprofits, they initially chose to get mail at their home instead of renting out a post office box. Venice Code Enforcement officials are using the listing of the residence as the ministry’s address to build a case against the Roessigers. In addition to prayer and Bible study, the ministry has food outreaches in the community and engages in foreign missions work. The latter includes ministering to people living in garbage dumps through providing meals and religious services.
In a letter sent by attorney Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute, the City Code Enforcement Board was informed that the corporate address has been changed so that the home address is no longer listed with the Florida Secretary of State. However, this family intends to continue to exercise their rights to the use and enjoyment of their property for prayer and Bible study, Snider wrote. In an unusual response, the Board “continued the matter indefinitely.” “It is difficult to understand how it is illegal to have a prayer meeting on Friday night with a half dozen people but it is alright if I invited the same group on Monday evening to watch Monday Night Football,” Shane Roessiger commented. Shortly after the last hearing before the Board, Code Enforcement cited the residents again for having a small sign in their yard which reads: “Need Prayer (941) 484-4915.” Again, the family is being threatened with a $250 per day fine for the illegal sign. The Venice Code makes an exception for political signs, with which the surrounding neighborhoods are strewn.
“We will not stand idly by while local governments run over families for having these types of religious gatherings in the privacy of their own homes,” said PJI president Brad Dacus. “If cities want to fine people and drag them into court or before other tribunals for having prayer meetings, we will be waiting for them,” Dacus continued.
PJI would like to acknowledge and thank attorney Roger Gannam of the law firm Lindell & Farson for serving as Florida counsel in this matter.