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National

Kat’s Blog: Wakulla County, Florida Discrimination Case

This news out of Florida is one of those David and Goliath type lawsuits, the little guy against the giant.

City Walk Urban Mission in Wakulla County, Crawfordville, Florida, a small faith-based ministry whose motto is “every saint has a past, every sinner has a future” has come under fire by some of the town’s folk and law enforcement.

Since 2013, this tiny non-profit ministry has worked to help rehabilitate ex-offenders, provided food and shelter, assistance in procuring employment and for some, reconnection with their families. The ministry’s address, a heavily wooded 3.4- acre piece of property, was accepted as a “registerable address” by the county, they were approved by Wakulla County Planning and Zoning Department as a “family care home” and advised that they could accommodate 6 individuals at a time, including staff. The program worked with 3 clients at a time and since their inception, more than 80 clients have been served by the program.

Life at City Walk Urban Mission ran smoothly for at least a year and a half, that is until an ill-willed neighbor of the Mission alerted the community to the fact that “sex offenders” were residing at City Walk. And so, it began, flyers of Florida’s sex offender registry which included the Mission’s residents, were distributed throughout the neighborhood.  There were break-ins and broken windows. Complaints to governmental authorities resulted not in assistance, but in the county’s withdrawal of their approval of the Mission’s operations as well as numerous attempts to have the program shut-down.

Instead of support from local law enforcement, the Mission’s harassment and vandalism reports were met with additional harassment from authorities.

An A-frame swing was built by a neighbor, stuck in a ditch in front of the Mission and the area declared “a park”. The county then refused to register new residents at the Mission address saying it was “too close to a park.” (Although this was subsequently over-turned by the state.)

A neighbor scattered trash across the Mission’s lawn, then filmed residents while they picked it up, recording himself saying “Look at the trash picking up trash”. Law enforcement did nothing.

A sheriff’s deputy searched the Mission without a warrant, taking photos, looking for evidence of illegal activities or code violations.

The town’s Building Inspector advised the Executive Director of the Mission that if she didn’t house any more sex offenders, the Mission would be left alone. He prefaced his comment by saying, if asked, he would deny ever having said it.

In the past when irate neighbors joined together to oust half-way houses or transitional programs such as this one from neighborhoods, the facilities often just hung their heads, quietly closed their doors and swiftly left town under cover of darkness.

But not today. Today when Goliath comes calling, David doesn’t get a rock, he gets a lawyer.

City Walk’s attorney, Noel Sterett, a religious liberty attorney, states “The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) protects City Walks right to serve those God has called them to service, free from governmental interference and discrimination.”  According to Sterett, there are other transitional homes in Wakulla County.

So, the issue isn’t the fact that City Walk Urban Mission is a transitional home, doing good things, getting ex-offenders back on their feet, preventing them from being homeless, helping them get a step-up in life. No, the issue is that those they are helping include those pesky “sex offenders”.

Would there have been a problem if there wasn’t a registry? If names, pictures and other personal information wasn’t available online for “un-neighborly neighbors” to use as ammunition against those who have served their sentences, those who aren’t bothering anyone, those who are just trying to quietly live their lives?

A case has been filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.  A hearing date has yet to be set.

Wakulla County authorities had no comment.

In the end, David defeats the giant Goliath and cuts off his head.

City Walk Urban Mission isn’t asking for anything that drastic, they only ask to be treated “equally,” no matter who their clients are.

 

Join the discussion

  1. Janice Bellucci

    I was so inspired by this story regarding the City Walk Urban Mission that I looked them up on the internet and then called them. What I found out is that the organization has two locations, one in Tallahassee and one in Crawfordville, where they help individuals including those convicted of a sex offense successfully re-enter society. The Mission has faced and continues to face many challenges from this who would like them to shut their doors. I have decided to support them with a small donation and urge others to do the same. There is a “Donate” button on their website or checks can be mailed to them at 1104 N. Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32303. Their website address is http://www.citywalkthrift.com.

    • hopeful

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We should all support such forward-looking organizations making a difference… I just did. Give if you can.

    • SR

      Thank you for looking into this and posting the link. I made a small donation to both of their current causes.

    • James

      Janice, thank you for leading others within our community to help each other. My successful reentry was due to the generous time, energy, and investment by people to provide housing, transportation, and employment when I had no hope. Today, I’m glad to be in a position to make that investment in the lives of others.

      If we can’t help each other, who will?

  2. BILL of CA

    “Look at the trash picking up trash”

    Well trash sees what it wants to see…

  3. AJ

    Sure sounds like a class of people (RCs) is being targeted and prevented from exercising their constitutional rights to express their religious beliefs. They may not be a protected class but they are readily identifiable and have their rights restricted versus all others. I wonder how the government can say it’s narrowly tailored and least-restrictive.

    • Dustin

      I have always argued that the phrase “protected class” is itself discriminatory. A discriminatory law or rule doesn’t magically become non-discriminatory by changing it’s target. That’s like saying a bullet is less deadly fired at an Asian than it is fired at a Mexican. Just saying…

  4. kevin

    Small acts for humanity are the first steps of change, I have pledged as well.

  5. Saddles

    This article about these men in Florida is a bit much as no person is trash althought people want to walk all over others as all characteristics of people are different and yes at many times just hearing the word sex offenders can drive people to do the most asinine thing Talking about the big guy jumping on the little guy.

    Helping others is a good quality and yes its a God measure. I guess thats why I always liked Janice’s forum. While we may not know much about the people does one always judge a book by its cover? Sure things may look bleak in one’s ordeal but their is always a rainbow ahead if one strives and with the ex-offender that has meaning.

    Kat gives a referrence to a David and Goliath story and actually that is a good example to use. Even if nobody has read their bible in a long time they should as their are many quality example’s mankind in any situation should use based on sound principal. I’ll let you all that want to challange that one read for yourself.

    Now as Russ and James and a few on here have I make some sense I didn’t come back here to force anyone to believe as belief comes from the heart. We all face challenges in life and each stateis different and yes equality and morals and Justice seem to be out of balance today.
    Nothing wrong with Rehabilation and nothing wrong with working together with goal settings. Authorities today can seem to want to overcome and backbite others but one has to press on for the positive. Even during this pandermic we still had sex offenders but change is going to come.

    Hey if it wasn’t for my sister and her husband I would be out in the cold even with my ordeal so the old saying is don’t look a gift horse in the mouth at times. Nothing wrong with being transiditional for a better life. Even the bible says think of others better than yourself.

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