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Battle Heats Up: Pastor Reportedly Faces New Criminal Charges After Refusing to Stop Housing Homeless

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Just two months after reports indicated charges would likely be dropped against an Ohio pastor under legal fire for housing homeless men and women in his church, the battle is once again heating up.


Attorneys for Dad’s Place Pastor Chris Avell filed a motion Thursday to show cause against Bryan, Ohio, on the basis officials purportedly failed to abide by an agreement requiring them to notify the court if they planned to take any such actions against the pastor.

The lawyers said Friday the city indeed served Avell “with new criminal charges for keeping his church open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

In a press release from First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal firm representing Avell, the attorneys alleged police and fire officials showed up at Dad’s Place one morning this week at 5:30 a.m. for an “unannounced inspection” that once again yielded violations.

“[They] alleged fire code violations, and threatened fines of $1,000 per day if the church does not immediately halt its 24-hour ministry beginning on May 1, 2024,” the release said. “This was the second time officials arrived for an inspection at 5:30 a.m.”

A Reversal of Recent Reports

This latest row comes after it recently appeared a resolution was in sight. Statehouse News Bureau reported in February Bryan officials had moved to ax criminal charges against Avell amid accusations he violated city zoning rules.

The outlet did note Bryan officials reserved the right to refile charges as detailed in a motion to dismiss. News of the potential dismissal had come after Avell and his church filed a federal lawsuit against the city. According to the most recent First Liberty press release, Avell and the church were engaged earlier this year in what they called “good faith settlement discussions.”

“Hoping to resolve this case and in reliance on the city’s representations to the Court that they would take no further enforcement actions against the church, the church agreed to cancel the preliminary injunction hearing originally scheduled before this Court on March 4,” the statement read. “Since that time, the church has addressed many of the alleged safety concerns raised by the city.”

But new criminal charges against Avell and the church have attorneys claiming city officials have no regard for the Constitution.

“City officials demonstrated once again that they have no respect for the First Amendment or for the court,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, said in a statement. “The city’s blatant hostility toward Dad’s Place and the court is repugnant.”

The Fully Backstory

As CBN News previously reported, the case against Avell originated late last year, with the pastor refusing to back down from officials’ demands to stop housing the homeless.

“[Pastor Chris Avell’s] facing 18 criminal charges for violating the city’s zoning laws,” a news release from First Liberty read at the time. “The city is going after him, because, earlier this year, Pastor Chris opened the church 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He’s seeking to serve homeless people.”

The statement continued, “In November 2023, the city sent a letter ordering the church to stop allowing overnight guests or face criminal prosecution. Then, on New Year’s Eve, police showed up at the church. They handed the pastor a packet of multiple charges and violations.”

Some of those alleged violations are detailed here.

A city press release said the police reportedly received calls starting in May 2023 about “inappropriate activity at Dad’s Place,” with the statement noting “some of the calls were for criminal mischief, trespassing, overdose, larceny, harassment, disturbing the peace and sexual assault.”

Avell told CBN News why his church decided last year to open its doors around the clock — a decision that came as homelessness in Bryan has reportedly increased in recent years.

“Through some things God had done and what we were seeing, we decided that … it was time to do it so that people can come in day or night and find true rest,” he said. “[And] come in and pray at any time of day.”

Watch Avell tell the story:

Avell said, prior to the legal dispute, the church had been receiving calls from police in the middle of the night to ask if the house of worship would take in people facing domestic disputes and other issues.

This is one of the reasons Dad’s Place decided to expand its operations. However, authorities began taking issue with purported zoning violations last fall, with the Bryan City Zoning Commission reportedly expressing concern just months after that decision.

Since the church doesn’t have bedrooms, the zoning commission said the house of worship could no longer house the homeless. Avell said, though, he tried to work with the city to remedy any concerns.

First Liberty attorney Ryan Gardner previously told CBN News the 18 criminal charges waged against Avell — who has reportedly continued to keep the church open and defy authorities — are “highly unusual.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “I’ve seen cities come after churches in the civil context when it comes to zoning issues, but to try to hold a pastor criminally liable and even put him in jail for simply caring for the homeless.”

CBN News will continue to cover the story as it unfolds.

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About The Author

Billy Hallowell writes for CBN's He has been working in journalism and media for more than a decade. His writings have appeared in CBN News, Faithwire, Deseret News, TheBlaze, Human Events, Mediaite, PureFlix, and Fox News, among other outlets. He is the author of several books, including Playing with Fire: A Modern Investigation Into Demons, Exorcism, and Ghosts Hallowell has a B.A. in journalism and broadcasting from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York and an M.S. in social research from Hunter College in Manhattan, New York.