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IPFS News Link • Religion: Believers

Town Tries to Shut Down Church Meeting in Barn

•, Todd Starnes

Around a dozen or so Christians meet inside the home of Howard Kaloogian, pastor of Grace New England Church in the town of Weare.

The congregation meets in the largest room of his home – a giant renovated barn.

The pastor has hosted a number of gatherings in the barn — including a meet-and-green for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Hundreds of people turned out.

But it's the church services that has caused angst of town leaders – and specifically, the zoning enforcement official – who happens to be a self-proclaimed atheist.

"He showed up at Kaloogian's front door and told him he could no longer use any part of his home, including the barn, for religious assemblies," reported Decision Magazine.

First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, filed a federal lawsuit after the pastor was slapped with a "cease and desist" notice from town leaders.

"You are to immediately stop and assembly regarding Grace New England Church," the notice 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."

The Town also warned Pastor Kaloogian that unless he was in full compliance of the order, penalties would apply.

"The cease and desist letter indicated that he could face fines ranging from $275 to $500 per day for holding religious gatherings in his home," First Liberty said.

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.

"Pastor Kaloogian is being targeted for the religious nature of his small group gatherings," First Liberty 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."