Religious Freedom At Stake In Dispute Over Harbor Community Church In Ventura, Proponents Say
Jim Sonne, director of the Religious Liberty Clinic, spoke with the Venutra County Star's Arlene Martinez on how students involved in the clinic are representing Ventura's Harbor Community Church in proving their ministry to homeless congregants "is an exercise of religious ministry."
In midtown Ventura, a building with a courtyard called Harbor Community Church offers daily services to the homeless. But whether those services are part of its religious mission or go beyond that scope is at the heart of a debate that could determine how or whether Harbor continues its current operations.
Harbor argues it is offering daily religious and spiritual opportunities for members of the community, a mission in line with the Bible's directive of helping the community's neediest. The showers, the meals, the employment assistance and the case management services offered to the homeless people who show up are part of that.
Founded in January, the clinic says it is the only clinic dedicated exclusively to religious liberty issues. It has taken on Harbor's case pro bono, said James Sonne, the clinic's director.
"Our position is that their ministry to their homeless congregants is an exercise of their religious ministry," Sonne said. "It is a form of worship guided by their understanding of the scriptural command to serve the least among us."
Stanford's clinic is helping the church through that process, Sonne said.
"We want to work with the neighbors and work with the city toward a successful resolution so the church can pursue its religious mission in a way that the neighbors and the city can support," Sonne said.