Pastor Defies Order to Bar Homeless Campers

( [email protected] ) Jan 22, 2007 04:34 PM EST

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) - A pastor has vowed to defy a prosecutor's order that he prevent homeless people from sleeping on church property.

First Congregational Church of Long Beach and Senior Pastor Jerald Stinson could face a fine of $1,000 a day for not rousting the 15 to 20 people who camp on the grounds at night, Deputy City Prosecutor Sayge Castillo warned in a recent letter.

"The city's threats are ludicrous," Stinson said Friday. "We're not going to do what they want us to do. Allowing these people to sleep on our property is, for us, a religious act."

The dispute began in late 2005 when local residents complained about homeless people who slept in makeshift camps each night on church property along the public sidewalk.

Stinson eventually received two letters from the city prosecutor's office warning the church that it was in violation of municipal and penal codes.

Stinson insists the church, which has a history of social activism, has legal support for its actions in a federal court ruling in New York.

In 2002, a federal appeals court upheld the right of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan to allow homeless people to sleep on its steps without fear of being dispersed by police.

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