Once again some of Great Falls’ most prominent pseudo-Christians are leading the charge against First United Methodist Church. The church’s offense? Allowing homeless people to exist on their property. Even worse, the church has allowed homeless people to shelter themselves from Montana’s weather in tents. The latter is simply too much for some of the God-fearing folks on the city commission. They want their homeless people quietly unhoused, and without any shelter whatsoever. Why would anyone need a tent in this temperate paradise anyway?
Rather than addressing poverty, increasing affordable housing, or creating a low-barrier shelter, the city sees fit to spend our money on a lawsuit that very likely violates the First Amendment. For those in the cheap seats, the First Amendment says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Now before folks start screaming about CRIME! DRUG USE! And SCARY HOMELESS PEOPLE! Please remember that crime of any kind is not allowed on First United Methodist Church property. The homeless in the church parking lot are subject to the same criminal laws we all are, and the church has never tried to argue otherwise. Nor is this lawsuit in regard to those concerns. The city is going after the church using zoning rules, in an attempt to claim that those tents themselves are illegal.
I, for one, am doubtful that the petty crusade of commissioners like Tryon to further displace the homeless trumps the Supremacy Clause and the First Amendment. Rather, the city is opening themselves up to significant liability and the possibility of a costly counter-lawsuit. I can’t help but wonder what kind of resources we could provide for our unhoused community members if we chose to spend our money on harm reduction measures rather than suing one of the only churches in town that genuinely serves the poor.
If you’re a Christian out there pondering “What would Jesus do” take it from your friendly local Atheist, taking tents away from the homeless is NOT the answer.