Prosecutors in Bryan, Ohio, dropped charges filed against a local pastor whose always-open church saw homeless people taking up residence.
Christopher Avell, pastor of Dad’s Church, faced 18 criminal charges filed on Dec. 8 for “allow[ing] transients/homeless to reside within the [property] for an extended amount of time.”
Mr. Avell filed a lawsuit against the city in January, claiming the charges violated his religious free exercise rights and a federal law covering religious use of church property.
A statement released by First Liberty Institute, representing Mr. Avell, said an “extended meeting” between its attorneys and city representatives on Feb. 1 was designed to mediate the dispute and led to an agreement in which the charges would be dropped and the church would no longer serve as a homeless shelter without proper certification.
Dad’s Church said it would “cease residential operations” at the location while it pursued the zoning permits required to offer housing and installed safety measures to provide those services.
Court papers show that Bryan municipal prosecutor Robert W. Bohmer filed the dismissal on Tuesday. The city said its filing was made “without prejudice,” meaning the case could be revived later.
Byron Mayor Carrie Schlade said the city appreciated the church’s “willingness to work with the city” to resolve the issue.
Mr. Avell expressed thanks to God and the city. “Bryan is my home. I am eager to continue to serve God, my community, and the people I love,” he said.
First Liberty senior counsel Jeremy Dys said he was “grateful that the city of Bryan has dropped the criminal charges against Pastor Avell.” He said the church offers a “vital public service,” and attorneys would continue negotiations with Bryan officials to allow Dad’s Place to “serve those in need.”
Bryan is a city in northwestern Ohio and the seat of Williams County. The 2020 census recorded a population of 8,729 people.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at email@example.com.
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