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San Juan Capistrano couple fined for holding bible studies

September 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
An Orange County couple is going to court to fight the fines they received for holding large bible studies in their San Juan Capistrano home.

Stephanie and Chuck Fromm's home, they say, is perfect for having family and friends over. Up until a couple of months ago, they said around 50 close friends and family would meet on Sunday mornings for bible study.

They were cited twice for a zoning violation that doesn't allow a large, regularly scheduled assembly of people in a house- the fines totaled $300.

"The same group, has been for a year and a half," said Stephanie Fromm. "We've totally enjoyed just blending this group. And I feel closer to them than some of my own family."

In a written statement to Eyewitness News, San Juan Capistrano City Attorney Omar Sandoval says the case "involves the question of when a property developed for residential use has been transformed into a place of public assembly. Zoning and building codes treat residences differently than places of public assembly because of public welfare and safety reasons."

The city raised concerns over street access and parking because of the large group that gathers at the Fromm home on Sunday mornings. The city contends this is not a freedom of religion issue.

"We're not trying to convert it into what it's been reported in some ways as a meeting room or a meeting house," said Chuck Fromm. "We just like having friends over and family to hear and read the scriptures."

The couple has been conducting their bible study in recent weeks at the nearby community center with the permission of their Home Owners Association.

They are appealing the fines in Orange County Superior Court and plan on filing a federal lawsuit challenging the city's zoning law on assembly.

The Fromms have been in contact with the city manager and believe they will be able to work out a resolution that will allow the bible studies to come back to their home on Sunday, as well as address the city's concern for parking and safety.

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