A Maryland church is facing a $12,000 fine for helping the homeless

The world has its share of trash people, including but certainly not limited to those who claim a religious affiliation but don’t love/care for other humans. The pastor of Patapsco United Methodist Church is trying to be a good person in an awful world. Reverend Katie Grover’s church faces a $12,000 fine for helping the homeless by doing what she feels she’s called to do as a Christian. Rev. Grover has allowed homeless people in the Baltimore, MD area to sleep outside of her church on benches and concrete slabs. She said she feels like the church should, at the very least, let homeless people have access to a bench to sleep on.

However, her kindness is not appreciated by the church’s business neighbor Charles Bartko. The Shore Produce and Seafood owner spoke to Fox Baltimore and confessed to complaining about the homeless because they “poured urine on his tree” and caused it to die. He also claimed to see a topless woman and defecation all over the place. His complaints reached Ellen Kobler, a deputy director in Baltimore County’s Office of Communications, and she agrees with him.

Kobler says the homeless have made an encampment on the church grounds, which is defined by the county as any place a homeless person sleeps. And, if they are sleeping on church grounds then Rev. Grover is in violation of a county regulation that forbids “non-permitted rooming and boarding” and that the church has not stopped using the exterior property to house the homeless. After complaints and several inspections, a $200 a day fine was imposed over the course of 60 days, which led to the hefty citation price. That’s a lot of money.

Patapsco United Methodist Church is now faced with a tough decision: evict the homeless or pay at $12,000 fine that will hurt the pockets of the small congregation. They would also have to put up a “No Trespassing” sign to prevent police guarding the church property. Rev. Grover has admitted her frustration and said those who oppose the church’s actions have forgotten that the homeless are children of God too. She doesn’t want to be forced to put up a sign because everyone should be welcome to the church.

This case brings up a couple of legitimate issues on both sides. First, there could be a violation of religious freedom. It is their religious obligation to treat others well and sometimes that goes against the established laws. In 2002, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church challenged the local authorities and won a ruling that allowed the homeless to sleep on their church steps. According to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the church proved that their decision to let the homeless sleep on their steps was a part of their religious beliefs and was therefore protected under the Free Exercise clause. So, Patapsco UMC could challenge this on a legal level.

Conversely, the neighbor also has a point if his accusations are true. Even the most patient and understanding person does not want urine poured in their yard. But, maybe he pissed one of the people off by being a jerk and they decided to drown his tree in pee. Either way, his complaints about human waste all over the place are certainly a cause for concern.

The church and local officials have discussed options like having police watch the grounds at night – a terrible idea considering the pervasive police brutality issues in Baltimore. Rev. Grover and her congregation haven’t come to an agreement and have no plans to back down from their decision to help the homeless. There is no easy fix to this situation, but hopefully a decision which helps the homeless can be reached soon.