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Church Sues Government for Allegedly 'Blocking' Pastor From Feeding Poor

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An Arizona church is suing the City of San Luis, charging officials with allegedly blocking its charitable food distribution to individuals and families in need.

Listen to them on the latest episode of “Quick Start":

Conservative legal firm First Liberty Institute and law firm Snell and Wilmer L.L.P. filed a complaint and request for a preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona on behalf of Gethsemani Baptist Church.

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, told CBN News the church, headed by Pastor Jose Manuel Castro, is close to the U.S.-Mexico border and has long served people in need.

“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 food when they need it,” Dys said, noting people all over the region have benefited from Gethsemani Baptist Church’s efforts.

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 commercial vehicles 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.

Watch Dys explain:

According to First Liberty, the City of San Luis has “issued [two] fines and threatens 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 church.

“The church has done what it has always done and so there’s really been no change on the end of the church,” Dys said. “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.

“What changed, it seems, is the mayor … was elected to office and very promptly kicked the church out of the city’s warehouses,” Dys said. “They had been using their warehouses for storage of food until they could move it to their property to hand it out.”

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 in a similar manner. 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.

The San Luis mayor’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment. We will update this story if and when a response is given.

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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.