Written by Don Byrd
A lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington State claims the rejection of a local minister’s application to visit a homeless camp violates her religious freedom rights. After purchasing the property where several dozen homeless people reside, the city of Aberdeen fenced in the property and limited access. Rev. Sarah Monroe serves as a pastor to several camp residents, but was denied a permit to visit the ground, the lawsuit alleges.
In a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed, Monroe explains why it’s important that she be given access and the rights at stake. Here is an excerpt:
I am a priest. I have been pastoring the people in this camp for five years. I do everything from drive people to the hospital, to prayer, to taking people to social service appointments, to performing last rites when people die here. These essential pastoral duties do not happen on a schedule, as any member of the clergy can attest. I have continued to visit people, even though I have been denied a permit, and am petitioning the court to prevent the city from arresting me.
Homeless people have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of religious expression. I have a constitutionally protected right to my freedom of religious expression, which includes serving the poor and the sick and the hungry. The city’s actions are a clear attempt to isolate, marginalize, and further criminalize people who have already been pushed to the edge of existence in this community. I consider it my duty as an American citizen and my vocation as a priest to stand against this.