A federal judge has blocked the city of St. Paul from enforcing restrictions on a church-based homeless drop-in center that limited the number of visitors and required the posting of a "no trespassing" sign.
The city's conditions on First Lutheran Church and Listening House appear to violate the church's First Amendment rights as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law passed by Congress, the judge ruled.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge John R. Tunheim on Monday issued a temporary injunction, saying that First Lutheran and Listening House, which serves homeless people from the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood church's basement, was likely to prevail in its lawsuit against the city regarding conditions put in place last December and in effect since April.
The council set those conditions after neighbors of the church complained about a number of things they associated with Listening House visitors, including littering and public urination.
The church and Listening House immediately indicated they would not follow the city's conditions, which they said violated their rights and their mission to serve those most in need. Listening House filed suit in state court; First Lutheran filed suit in federal court.
"It's just absurd that neighbors and a city can tell a church who they can serve and to put up a 'no trespassing' sign on its property," said Evan Berquist, an attorney representing First Lutheran Church.
"We are pleased with the decision and look forward to resolving this relatively quickly."
Calls to church officials Tuesday were not immediately returned.
Asked for comment on the injunction, City Attorney Lyndsey Olson issued the following statement: "We have been in discussions with both Listening House and First Lutheran. The City recognizes the difficulties with these conditions and we continue towards a resolution that will address concerns for Listening House, First Lutheran and the surrounding community."
Cheryl Peterson, executive director of Listening House, said she is happy the judge's order blocks the city's 20-person limit and hopes the injunction will speed a favorable resolution with the city.
Listening House has exceeded the limit every day that it has been in effect, she said.
"We think it's important that people who are experiencing homelessness or even loneliness have a place where they feel welcome," she said. "And Listening House is that place."