On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Warns Arizona Officials Against Continued Harassment of Christian Woman Cited for Using Home to Share Free Food with Needy
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an Arizona woman who has been cited and warned against using her home to share free food with the hungry and needy members of her community as a means of exercising her Christian beliefs. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute intervened after an enforcement officer with the City of Glendale allegedly informed Millie Ramirez that she would be considered a criminal if she continued to use the driveway of her private residence to distribute free food to area families. For seven years, Ramirez has 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. In taking issue with the makeshift “food bank,” Glendale officials insist that Ramirez is violating the Glendale City Code by storing materials outside her home, citing her charitable activities as being an “illegal home occupation,” an “illegal land use,” and as unlawfully lacking a “business license.” Pointing out that the City’s interpretation of its own code is erroneous, resulting in actions that constitute a violation of Ramirez’ 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, Institute attorneys have demanded that city officials cease their unfounded harassment of Ramirez or risk legal action.
“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 as these provisions are expressly limited to indefinite storage of material goods, they do not apply to Ramirez’ temporary use of items used for a specific purpose—in this case, feeding the hungry. Were the provision properly interpreted as City officials have applied it to Ms. Ramirez, then it 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. In warning city officials to immediately cease their harassment of Ramirez, Institute attorneys have demanded that city officials issue a formal, written apology to Ramirez, assuring her in writing that no city officials will interfere with her charitable distribution of food in the future, and requiring that all law enforcement officials undergo training on proper enforcement of the City’s Code, including training to ensure that officials will pay proper regard to citizens’ exercise of First Amendment rights.