Between Baltimore and D.C., in the suburb of Laurel, sits Ragamuffins Coffee House. Run by neighborhood Redemption Community Church, the nonprofit coffee shop opened with the intention of serving the community as well as presenting the Gospel. Until the city instituted a new zoning ordinance, banning the coffee shop from holding services. Believing that the new ordinances were specifically aimed at them, the coffee shop and church have now turned to Alliance Defending Freedom to take legal action to protect their religious rights.
Advertisement - story continues below
Ragamuffins Coffee House is located in a very poor neighborhood and seeks to meet the needs of those who are struggling, offering them a welcoming and warm community — and great coffee.
“We’re trying to represent the tremendous love of God. Community is our first product; after that we bring [handcrafted] coffee,” said Rev. Jeremy Tuinstra, according to the Baltimore Sun.
But the church’s beautiful outreach effort was recently met with staunch opposition, when city officials told them to cease ministry operations and leave immediately. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious freedom legal group representing the church, city officials adopted new zoning codes with the express intention of stopping Redemption Community Church from operating in the city’s downtown area.
“The law forces houses of worship to submit to an expensive, time-consuming, and uncertain special exception process that is not imposed on secular organizations,” ADF explained. Despite the building being advertised for “church/school” purposes, shortly after the church purchased the property, the zoning laws were altered.
“Almost immediately after the church purchased the property, the city changed its zoning code to remove houses of worship on less than one acre as permitted uses in the zone and allow them only if a special exception permit application was individually approved,” ADF noted. “The city’s changes in its code were not neutrally applied and were only adopted to single out the church.”
“Are you doing church at your property?” one city planner reportedly asked a church representative following the purchase, adding, “There are eyes everywhere, and you are always being watched.”
The parameters of the exception include a nonrefundable $2,000 filing fee, the hiring of an engineer to draft an “Existing Conditions Site Plan” and a “Proposed Site Plan,” and a detailed application that the City Board of Appeals can reject.
Known as Redemption Community Church v. City of Laurel, the lawsuit was filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement released last Friday that the city of Laurel’s zoning regulation was “discriminatory.”
“The government can’t discriminate against churches simply because they are religious,” said Holcomb. “Despite making every effort to work with the city to comply with its burdensome zoning changes, Redemption Community Church is now being told to either stop holding worship services or pay severe fines.”
Originally called Covenant Presbyterian Church, Redemption Community decided to move to the downtown Laurel area and set up a non-profit coffee shop to minister to the poor.
Last August, the city sent the church a cease-and-desist letter compelling them to stop advertising their Sunday worship gatherings.
In January, the city sent a second cease-and-desist letter leading Redemption Fellowship to halt their worship services at their coffee house or face fines.
“Defendant, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, has caused, and will continue to cause, the Church to suffer undue and actual hardship and irreparable injury,” argued the suit.
The Ragamuffin’s website includes:
Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel heavily influenced the people of Redemption Community Church, the owner of Ragamuffins. In it, Manning describes how people who receive God’s love and grace are spiritual ragamuffins. They get beat up, bedraggled, and burnt out, but God never stops loving and pursuing them.
Here’s how Manning portrays ragamuffins:
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.
Advertisement - story continues below
We hope you experience the goodness of God in this community of Ragamuffins, people changing by his love and grace.
How dare they open a community gathering space that serves coffee and speaks of J**** and the B**** (censored to comply with the city codes).
How dare the church and coffee shop partner with an organization to help provide safe drinking water to those in underdeveloped countries.Only in wackjob liberal meccas like Baltimore is it considered 1st Amendment “free speech” when rioters destroy the city and loot businesses, but somehow NOT considered 1st Amendment freedom of religion to actually practice religion.