GLENDALE, Ariz. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are continuing to challenge Arizona officials’ attempts to force a Glendale resident to cease using her home to share free food with the hungry and needy members of her community. Acting on her Christian beliefs, Millie Ramirez has, for the past seven years, collected donations from area grocers and made them available to needy families by setting up a temporary food bank in her driveway, which she puts up and takes down each day. Although Glendale city officials acknowledge that Ramirez is well within her rights to express her religious beliefs by giving out free food to the needy members of her community, they have repeatedly warned her to refrain from distributing free food on her own property on the grounds that she has “created a nuisance for her neighbors,” and have gone so far as to characterize Ramirez’s charitable efforts as an “illegal home occupation,” an “illegal land use,” and unlawfully lacking a “business license.” Reiterating his warning to Glendale officials to stop their unfounded harassment of Ramirez or risk legal action, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead has accused city officials of misapplying the City Code, which is already overbroad, in violation of Ramirez’s First Amendment right to freely exercise her religion and her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as her rights under Arizona’s Freedom of Religious Exercise Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“Once again, we find ourselves in the inexplicable position of actually having to protect Americans from a governmental bureaucracy intent on asserting its authority, even to the detriment of such fundamental First Amendment rights as free speech, free exercise of religion and assembly,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Unfortunately, this is all part of the ongoing breakdown in representative government that has landed us with a mess of vague laws criminalizing the most innocuous activities, such as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing food with the needy.”
Acting on her Christian beliefs, Millie Ramirez has run a makeshift food bank out of her home for the past seven years, collecting donations from area grocers and distributing them to needy families in her community. Ramirez lays out the food on temporary shelves placed on her driveway, which she puts up and takes down each day. Recently, however, Ramirez has been subjected to repeated harassment by Glendale city officials, who have issued “compliance notices” stating that she is in violation of Glendale’s storage ordinances and cited her for violating City Code § 25-21 (f), which states that “no person shall place and/or store furniture ... in a location that is visible to a person standing upon any public street or sidewalk.”
In challenging the City’s assertions as erroneous and misguided, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute point out that a proper interpretation of these provisions limits only indefinite storage of material goods. They should not apply to Ramirez’s temporary use of items used for a specific purpose—in this case, feeding the hungry. If city officials’ interpretation were correct, then the provisions could also be used to outlaw tables used for occasional lemonade stands and yard sales, as well as items regularly used outdoors in residential neighborhoods—garden hoses, lawn tools, watering cans, signage, picnic blankets and baskets, children’s toys, bicycles, etc. Institute attorneys have also asked for clarification in regards to what exactly is objectionable about Ramirez’s charitable giving. In warning city officials for a second time to cease their harassment of Ramirez, Institute attorneys have reiterated their demand that Ramirez be assured in writing that no city officials will interfere with her charitable distribution of food in the future, threatening legal action should they fail to do so.