San Diego County Shuts Down Church But Would Allow Bar in Its Place

Guatay, CA – Pacific Justice Institute has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a church in east San Diego County which has been shut down by county officials. The County claims the church is “illegal” even though it has been operating at its current location for almost twenty-five years. Meanwhile, the County has stated that alcohol sales and live entertainment would be permissible at the church site.

The church, Guatay Christian Fellowship, has been leasing the recreation center and other buildings at the Pine Valley Trailer Park since 1986. As a long-term tenant, the church has replaced roofs on the buildings, installed alarm and sound systems, poured cement for a basketball court, and made many other improvements. The improvements have benefited many other users of the buildings, including the Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, fire officials – who used the facility as a staging area during the 2003 Cedar Fire – and even the government, which has used the buildings as polling places and for town hall meetings.

The church was therefore stunned by a recent letter from the County demanding that it cease all religious activities or face legal action. The County even threatened to turn off power to the site. Fearing prosecution, the church complied. The County’s actions have left part-time pastor Stan Peterson shaking his head. “I could see this if we were crooks and hurting people, but we give to missionaries in Africa and Mexico”, he said.

Pacific Justice Institute heard about the church’s plight and took action. PJI affiliate attorney Pete Lepiscopo, of the San Diego law firm of Lepiscopo & Morrow, has now filed a federal lawsuit seeking to protect the church’s right to exist. “The County’s actions are capricious and unlawful,” said Lepiscopo. “It is an egregious abuse of power for the County to shut down a church – without a hearing – that has been faithfully and effectively serving its community for almost twenty-five years.”

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, agreed. “Governmental hostility toward churches is always saddening, but shutting down Guatay Christian Fellowship is shocking. Does the County really think this community is better off with a bar that invites substance abuse than with a church that is changing lives?”