Home Christian News Newark, NJ City Ordinance Bars Churches From Feeding the Hungry

Newark, NJ City Ordinance Bars Churches From Feeding the Hungry

During the holiday season, many people from a variety of faith traditions look for ways to serve the underprivileged people in their communities. This year in Newark, New Jersey, such acts of charity may now require a city permit. 

A few days before the Thanksgiving holiday, the city of Newark instituted an ordinance barring churches and relief organizations from serving food to those without homes in any public places, including parks and train stations.

This ordinance is apparently part of an effort by city officials to discourage the presence of people without homes in the city by removing the availability of cost-free food. 

“The ordinance the city is working on will prohibit agencies and individuals without a permit from feeding residents without addresses,” a spokeswoman for Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in an email to the New York Times. “All violators will be ticketed and fined.”

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While seen by many as a callous move against the needs of people without adequate access to food, Newark is not the only city to enact such a policy. According to the National Homelessness Law Center, at least 17 cities in the U.S. require permits to feed the hungry in the community.

The National Homelessness Law Center describes this as the “criminalization of homelessness,” which is a strategy for decreasing the number of unhoused individuals in a city by enacting legislation that makes it so difficult for homeless individuals to remain in that city that they go somewhere else. 

Many Christians believe such ordinances are a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression, as they see feeding the hungry as an essential aspect of Christian practice. 

Earlier this year, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, OR defied a similar ordinance in order to continue serving the hungry and unhoused individuals in their community. Rather than requiring a permit, city officials in Brookings moved to restrict how often churches could offer food services to the community, which would drastically reduce St. Timothy’s efforts.

Some community members had rallied around the ordinance when they noticed an unusually high number of unhoused individuals spending time at the church in the wake of shelter closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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