Feeding the Homeless Without Permission No Longer Illegal in Dallas–If You Have the Right Motive


Great news for religious freedom out of Dallas, from CBS Dallas/Fort Worth:

Thumbnail image for bigheart1.jpg

For 30 years, Don Hart fed the homeless in Dallas.

"I feel like it's God's appointment," he said.

With his BIGHEART Ministries, he fulfilled his calling, helping clothe and counsel the crowds who came to him for a meal.

"It grew, grew, grew… until we were feeding thousands of people," he said…..

In 2005, the city of Dallas passed an ordinance, requiring organizations feeding the homeless to get the city's approval, provide bathrooms, and meet a list of public safety requirements.

Hart said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to comply.

"It kept getting worse, until finally police were coming out," said Hart.

One day, Hart-Ball remembers seeing a dozen police cars.  Officers, she said, began questioning the volunteers.

"They're ready to take us to jail – for what?  Praying for people? Scrambling eggs?" said Hart-Ball.

Hart filed a lawsuit against the city, which stretched out for almost seven years.

Finally, Thursday morning, a judge ruled the city's ordinance violated Texas law protecting Hart's religious freedom….

This Easter Sunday, he says, will mark the resurrection of his ministry.

He and his daughter plan to be back on the streets, serving the homeless.

But as Dallas Observer, uh, observes, the decision is more limited than it ought to be:

U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis ruled that the city's ordinance amounts to a violation of Big Heart's and Rip Parker Memorial's rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars state and local government a government from doing anything that might "substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion."

But the victory is a narrow one. The city's homeless feeding ordinance remains intact, except where it concerns the plaintiffs and, by extension, other groups who feel a religious duty to serve the underfed. Those of you who simply feel sorry for the unhoused, without the backing of religious conviction? Drop those plans to hand out sandwiches on a street corner. You're better off just volunteering at The Stewpot, unless, of course, you enjoy six-year legal battles.

Feeding the homeless in Dallas as you please: legal if you do it for the right motive; otherwise, thoughtcrime. 

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  1. Good thing Pastafarianism teaches that all should be fed by His Noodly Appendage. R’amen.

  2. Isn’t this a problem inherent with freedom of religion? You could rephrase this as “your organization doesn’t have to pay taxes, provided it operates for the right reasons”?

    1. Yes, but the solution is to get rid of corporate taxes.

      1. no the solution is to get rid of individual income taxes, and keep a modest corporate tax. There is no reason in god’s heaven that a church should *have* to incorporate.

    2. It is indeed. I think that the right solution is to invalidate completely any rule that violates anyone’s free exercise of religion rather than carving out special exemptions for religious groups.

    3. Yes, John, which is what we were trying to tell you on the gay marriage threads about 1,000 times.

      1. And that is why most libertarians sympathy for liberty ends where religion begins. Yea Randian, you don’t believe in religious freedom, which is what I was trying to tell you on the gay marriage threads about a thousand times.

          1. No Randian you are dumb, or more likely dishonest. Spouting platitudes while ignoring the obvious implications of your argument, doesn’t really cut it. The platitudes may make you feel good but they don’t change what your positions actually mean.

            1. Your comment appears to be in English, but I have read it three times and I think it’s total gibberish instead.

              My religion says it’s OK to murder people. You don’t believe I should have that right, so you don’t really believe in the freedom of religion either.

              1. You remind me of liberals who claim shock when the housing stock falls because of rent control. Liberals don’t support reducing the housing stock. It is just that their policies inevitably produce such and any fool but them could see that.

                In the same, sure you don’t support restricting religious liberty. But in supporting gay marriage you are supporting a position that will inevitably result in such restrictions. As a wise man once said, foreseeable consequences are not unintended.

              2. If someone’s religion requires that they perform certain actions that affect only themselves, then more power to ’em. Worship away. Donate and proselytize until you’re blue in the face.

                If their religion requires that they perform actions on anyone against their will, or that they coerce others through force to participate in the religion, then yean, screw their religion.

                We can argue until Ragnarok about whether or not a particular religion mandates that someone utilize force on someone else, so I’ll just stick to judging people by their actions. If they initiate force because their personal brand of religion tells them to, then screw their personal brand of religion.

    4. Isn’t this a problem inherent with freedom of religion?

      I don’t see how an effective argument against any action of the state is a “problem”.

  3. “city’s ordinance violated Texas law protecting Hart’s religious freedom”

    Besides the point, isn’t it? Fuck.

  4. “Officer, I’m fattening these people up for religious purposes. Look how scrawny these mopes are. My human sacrifices need to have some meat on their bones.”

  5. I thought commenters would try to see the cloud in this silver lining.

    Federal courts don’t have a roving mandate to correct every injustice. For certain technical reasons, they have the power to enforce state laws in certain situations, and apparently here they enforced Texas’s religious-freedom statute. It’s Texas itself, not the federal government, which legalized Hart’s behavior.

    Sure, this decision is limited to religiously-motivated feeding of the homeless. But for some reason (and research on this phenomenon is ongoing), there is quite an overlapping Venn Diagram of “religiously-motivated people” and “people who feed the hungry.” So in practical effect, this decision will protect the great preponderance of people in Texas who undertake to feed the hungry.

    If, say, the Ethical Culture Society or the American Atheists, based on their spiritual beliefs, decided to feed the hungry (“we believe that human beings are more important than imaginary sky-fairies, and we will prove this by feeding people who are down on their luck!”), then they would be protected by this decision, because it’s been long established that religion need not be theistic. So non-theists like Ethical Culturalists, professional atheists, Buddhists, etc. can claim the protection of this ruling.

    So we may expect to see Ethical Culture and atheist soup-kitchens in Texas and day now. Any day now…

    1. But by all means, Reason should cover the sad story of some secular group which is feeding the hungry but falls afoul of these kinds of regulations because they don’t have religious motives. Such a story would really tug at the heartstrings. Can you find anyone like this?

      1. Serious question, do any explicitly atheist groups do charity work beyond suing to ensure Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny never appear in the public square?

        1. If they did, they could claim religious-freedom protections just as surely as this Hart guy, if their motive was to engage in the practical expression of atheist ideals.

          1. A quick Google search disclosed this list. You’re welcome.


            I expect that if they operated in Texas, they would be protected by the Texas RFRA. So bring it on!

            Charity contest!

            1. Ooh, look, they include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation under the heading of atheist charities. That should keep their numbers up.

            2. Thanks. And yes, I would imagine they would be protected.

            3. I think you miss the point. This is policy that regulates you according to motive instead of action. It’s morally akin to ‘hate speech’ and other ‘hate crime’ laws designed to punish thought.

              1. That’s a very compelling theoretical argument. I would legalize purely secular aid to the hungry.

                If you can find an actual organization which feeds the hungry yet doesn’t benefit from this court decision, I would be happy to take their side.

                On the practical level, though, this is a great victory for the freedom to feed the hungry, since, empirically speaking, most such folks have a religious motive protected the Texas RFRA.

                1. It’s preferential treatment to certain ‘religious’ groups. That’s not theory. They should all be allowed to give food regardless of motive. And don’t go on about empirical evidence proving something while you simultaneously acknowledge you’re making assumptions, however reasonable those assumptions may be.

                  1. I said I’d be happy to stand up for any group feeding the hungry without being protected by the Texas RFRA.

                    I notice, however, that nobody (except myself) has provided actual links to atheist charities.

                    1. PLUS – atheist charities would be protected by Texas RFRA because, in the eyes of the law…

                      …wait for it…

                      Atheism is a religion!

        2. Those explicitly atheist groups are not atheist. Atheism simply means a lack of belief or faith.
          What they are is anti-theist. Totally different thing.
          As an atheist I have no beef with religion, though I know more than a few anti-theists that do.

          1. Anti Theist is a good way of putting it.

          2. I would *love* to be able to deny that that Phelps guy in Kansas is a Christian. Yet I can’t say this, I can only say that he’s misguided and heretical.

            C.S. Lewis said that it would be better to describe erring Christians as bad Christians than to deny that they are Christians at all.

            Similarly, it won’t do to say that bad atheists can’t be atheists at all – best to just say that they are heretics within the framework of atheism.

            1. Yes anti-theists are a subset of atheists.

            2. I think of what you call ‘bad atheists’ as humanists. They do have faith in a higher power. Their faith is in government. In force dealt out by men. They worship violence. No self-limiting principles like the NAP or a belief in self ownership. Might makes right.
              It’s people like them who, when in power, spill the blood of millions.

              1. If you could get people to agree to equate “atheist” with “libertarian atheist,” then I would be with you. But you have yet to achieve that consensus. So far, people define atheists as those who either deny the existence of God or who say they aren’t convinced God exists (depending on the strictness of the definition).

                I’m sure you will find a definition of atheist which excludes Stalin as soon as I can find a definition of Christian which excludes Torquemada and Pelosi.

              2. They are still atheists though. And I imagine you could be an anti-theist who doesn’t believe in using coercion.

          3. When you start explaining the motives and beliefs of a group of which you are not a member, and for which you have demonstrated contempt, you’ve lost.

            1. Maybe I’m a former member whose contempt is born of familiarity.

              1. Get back to me when you’re sure.

                1. So you can judge what I say based not upon the merit of what I say, but upon who is saying it?

                  There is a name for that: ad hominem.

    2. Oh look out, EvH is trying to troll us all.

      Ironically, as an atheist, I do my charity in the fashion Jesus commanded people like you do it: in secret.

      Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

      1. “Trying” my foot, I succeeded.

        And I was *defending* the religious freedom of atheists to feed the hungry.

        *And* I linked to a list of atheist charities.

        If this was the worst form of trolling atheists had to fear, they would have little anxiety at all.

        1. And I noticed that you make a point of advertising that fact that you don’t advertise your almsgiving.

          1. I noticed that as well.

          2. I don’t have to live up to Christian values. You do.

            And yet here you are trumpeting your superiority. Ironic, that.

            1. I’m a sinner. I acknowledge this.

              But it seems that you have a personal grudge against me, which I certainly regret.

              1. It’s the adaptation of the holier-than-thou attitude and the presumption that atheists do no charitable work that irks. Your entire 11:06 comment is a sarcastic paean to how much better people like *you* are versus those stingy atheists.

                Fuck your humility and apologize for your assumptions.

                1. Remind me, who was it who did a Google search and linked to the list of atheist charities? Was it you? No? Then why don’t you kindly STFU.

                  1. What does that have to do you with your 11:06 comment?

              2. False sympathy fail.

      2. Since you do it privately Randian, clearly the thing to do is get the government to ensure everyone does it privately.

      3. But you are disobeying Jesus, who said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

    3. But Eduard, atheists are deeply offended when their beliefs are compared favorably to a religion. How could they make this argument without their heads exploding?

      1. Citation needed. I smell straw.

        1. “Atheism is a religion”


          1. A lack of faith is no more a religion than darkness is light or silence is sound.

            1. In they law’s eyes it’s a religion, and a good thing, too, because it protects the rights of atheist charities under the Texas RFRA and other RFRAs.

              1. Legally, it is a religion. In terms of belief, it isn’t. One person’s opinion in a reason magazine article doesn’t make it so.

          2. FTA:

            Atheism, on the other hand, is about God and proving such an overpostulated supernatural being does not exist.

            Wrong, Kennedy. That is what anti-theism is about.

            1. Gosh, did I stubble onto some kind of controversial subject? Oops.

              1. stumble

              2. I have to keep my atheism somewhat secret because when it is known, I get some seriously dirty looks from people. They view me as the guy who wants to end tax-exempt status for churches or tear down nativity scenes and such. I’m not that person because I don’t oppose religion. I simply lack faith.
                These anti-theists give atheists a bad rap, and yes I’m sick of it.

                1. Ah, I see. I certainly sympathize.

                  You could simply say that you are such a strong supporter of tax exemptions for religion that you want atheist groups to get in on the action!

                2. Right there with you. Couldn’t care less if someone sets up a menorah or that Jehovah’s Witnesses feel the need to stay fit by spending all day walking door to door.

                  And yeah, I’m not sure why people think I’d choose the social stigma of atheism if I didn’t think it was the 100% logical conclusion to the breadth of human observation so far.

                  I once had a guy jump from “you’re an atheist?” to “you might as well marry a dog.” This came after we’d spent a good solid hour having a serious discussion about Austrian economics, during which time he praised my knowledge of the subject and even brought his wife over to tell her about it.

                  I’ve also gotten “why do you hate America?”

  6. Do they give out meals before or after the preaching? Just asking

  7. What about teh evul Mooooslumz, poisoning the minds of starving poor people, bribing them into heathen servitude with tasty morsels of tainted food?

    That should be illegal.

  8. “It grew, grew, grew? until we were feeding thousands of people,” he said…..

    give people free shit and more people will want it. Who knew –

    1. There may have originally been a stigma or reluctance to accept “charity” in that area? Obviously if there was, it is long gone…

  9. “It grew, grew, grew? until we were feeding thousands of people,”

    Everybody in the fucking universe whose mother had a bird feeder knows this.

    What a maroon.

  10. Basically, my point is this: The government should deregulate feeding the poor altogether, but as a second-best choice, they should at least let religious groups get licenses to feed the poor.

    I hope nobody disagrees with this formulation.

    1. With this stipulation: A government license for a religious group to feed the poor should not entail a right on the part of that group to force other people, against their will, to assist in their charitable efforts.

    2. Why must people ask for permission in the form of a license to give food to hungry people?

      1. I think you missed my point, which is unfortunate in light of your handle.

        Doesn’t this sound familiar: I would like to deregulate charity, but if I can’t, at least let licensed religious groups administer charity?

        HINT: It was a swipe at the SSM argument – license same-sex couples to get them the freedoms which everyone ought to get from the deregulation of marriage.

        The only difference between the two cases is that (a) religious groups don’t actually get a license in the same way as married couples and (b) getting permission to serve the needy doesn’t *automatically* entail the right to force other people to help you in your ministry.

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