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San Juan Capistrano family fined for holding Bible study in home

September 21, 2011 | 11:29 am

A San Juan Capistrano family has been fined for holding regular Bible studies in their home in violation of the city's zoning code.

A religious legal nonprofit group has taken up the family's cause, calling it a case of religious freedom.

The city of San Juan Capistrano has fined Charles and Stephanie Fromm $300 for their regular Bible study groups, according to a statement from the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute.

The couple appealed the fine and was told subsequent fines would be enhanced if they continued holding the study group without a conditional use permit -- a specialized permit allowing the activity under prescribed conditions, according to the statement.

City spokeswoman Cathy Salcedo declined to be interviewed by The Times. But in a brief email, she was emphatic the city does not prohibit home Bible studies.

Instead, the Fromms' case, she wrote, is about when a residential area has been transformed into a place where people regularly assemble.

"The Fromm case further involves regular meetings on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons with up to 50 persons, with impacts on the residential neighborhood on street access and parking," she wrote.

The Fromms could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

But Brad Dacus, an attorney and PJI president, said the Bible study groups create no parking problems on the Fromms' semi-rural street, which has properties measuring more than an acre.

The city "needed some kind of rational basis to justify their rigid intolerance towards this family for having a Bible study in their home," said Dacus, who added that he is acting as the Fromms’ spokesman.

Dacus said the city should refund the fine and apologize to the Fromms.

"This matter could be resolved very easily," he said.

Otherwise, he said, PJI is "committed to defending this family's home Bible study all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary."

Dacus said more than 20 Bible study groups meet in San Juan Capistrano.

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-- Sam Quinones

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