All the people at Hope Church on the northwest edge of downtown New Orleans wanted to do was fulfill God’s direction to “give a cup of cold water” to partyers at the annual Mardi Gras (a French term meaning “Marty is gross”) street festival.
Tipton said volunteers from his church were handing out free coffee and free bottles of water at two locations along a Mardi Gras parade route when they were stopped by Jefferson Parish officials. The church volunteers were cited for failing to secure an occupational license and for failure to register for a sales tax.
“It kind of threw me for a loop because they weren’t in uniform,” he said. “But once they pulled the ticket out, I was conviniced.”
“We apologized,” Tipton said. “We didn’t know the rules.”
The church had purchased about five thousand bottles of water labeled with the church’s name and website address. They gave the remaining bottles to a local drug rehab center…
The story came to the attention of the Family Research Council:
Ken Klukowski, a senior legal fellow at the Family Research Council, said the citation was absurd.
“This is a perfect example of why so many people have a problem with big government,” Klukowski said. “The idea that a church needs a permit to hand out water to thirsty people is unfortunate.”
He said it’s hard to believe that the government would get in the way of citizens helping each other out – “especially a church which was just doing its duty to be good Samaritans and help those in need.”
Pastor Tipton said he sent an email to city leaders explaining that they were just trying to show their love to the city “and to serve the city.”
He offered to provide volunteers to clean up trash or even clean portable toilets. However, city leaders did not initially respond and Tipton said he was given the runaround – told to go through three different department heads.
Klukowski said the incident is outrageous.
“The idea that you need an additional level of bureaucracy stopping a church from showing kindness to members of the community is a perfect example of a waste of taxpayer money and resources,” he said.
This is just one of many recent stories of churches wanting to do what churches have done for years — such as giving out a free lunch — and discovering they’re running afoul of the law. What can churches do to meet needs and be involved in the community when government rules, regulation and red tape seem to shut them down at every turn?