Pastor Served with Cease and Desist Order and Fined $500 a Day for Holding Prayer Meeting and Bible Studies at His Home

BREAKING: A local New Hampshire pastor fell victim to the newest attack against Christianity when he was served a “cease and desist” letter with fines of up to $500 per day because he is holding prayer meetings and Bible studies in his home, which is a barn.

In the small town of Weare, New Hampshire, where some nine thousand residents live, a pastor by the name of Howard Kaloogian hosts a weekly ministry in his home with about a dozen Christians. Kaloogian is the pastor of Grace New England Church.

Kaloogian’s at-home ministry, held in the largest room of his home, a large, renovated barn, has hosted religious gatherings for over a year, and other kinds of gatherings since 2015. His ministry is a church plant of Grace Community Church located outside of Houston, TX.

While most of his events are small-scale, the pastor’s largest event was a meet-and-greet for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., which attracted a crowd of several hundred.

The pastor’s church services, however, are what has provoked the distress of Weare leaders. The town’s zoning enforcement officer, “a self-proclaimed atheist” named Tony Sawyer, showed up at Kaloogian’s front door and forbade him from using any part of his home for religious meetings. 

First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty and advocates for “the freedom to live out your faith,” adopted the small-town pastor’s case and filed a federal lawsuit after the town leaders served him a “cease and desist” notice.

“Adherents to Christianity have met in places other than formal cathedrals, churches, or chapels from the time of Christ. This has been especially true when a church is initially formed or planted. Whether for reasons of cost or persecution, for a church in its infancy, Christian churches have often met in individual homes the world over,” First Liberty Institute argues in its lawsuit.

“In fact, until Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD, the early Christian church had no other option but to meet in individual homes, often in secret, because of the ruthless persecution by the Roman state. In the United States, the tradition of using individual homes for religious gatherings—even formal church services—has garnered special solicitude under the law. Since the founding era, and to the present day, Christian church-plants in America have gathered in individual homes for worship.”

Further, the lawsuit argues, the actions of the town and its officials violate the Church’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the New Hampshire Constitution, and New Hampshire Revised Statute 674:76. 

Additionally, Weare’s “Zoning Ordinances allow religious use of residential property— specifically, ‘Churches’—as of right, but the town and its officials nevertheless are subjecting Pastor Kaloogian to burdensome and likely futile exercises to apply for a site plan or conditional use permits to worship in his home with his small congregation,” the lawsuit says. 

The cease-and-desist letter indicates that the pastor could face fines ranging from $275 to $500 per day for holding religious gatherings in his home, First Liberty Institute said.

“You are to immediately stop [any] assembly regarding Grace New England Church,” the letter read. “This Cease and Desist will remain in effect until a site plan is submitted, reviewed and there is a decision made by the Town Planning Board.”

Interestingly, for some eight years before Kaloogian opened his church, he held countless non-religious gatherings that were heavily promoted throughout the town, including by its officials. 

“To be clear, homeowners in Weare are allowed to host Super Bowl parties, poker games and book clubs in their homes. But they cannot hold Bible studies or worship services,” U.S. Pastor Council pointed out.

“Pastor Kaloogian is being targeted for the religious nature of his small group gatherings,” First Liberty Institute said. “The Town’s actions discriminate on the basis of religion against the Church and hinder Grace New England from the free exercise of its religious freedom granted in the First Amendment and protected by federal law.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans meet every day in homes for prayer meetings, Bible studies, book clubs, card games, and other gatherings,” said Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel at First Liberty Institute. “Why would Weare city officials stop this small, Christian congregation from legally doing likewise?”

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