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A Christmas Eve shootout prompted a government crackdown and eviction of a Chattanooga, Tennessee, church and its controversial gang-outreach program.

Residents have criticized Club Fathom, run by Mosaic Arts Venue pastor Tim Reid, for hosting secular concerts for teens that have turned rowdy. Police have responded to at least 19 assault calls there since 2006.

City officials asked for an injunction to close down the club and the church after a Christmas Eve event attended by about 400 people ended in a gunfight that wounded 9.

A judge granted a 15-day restraining order, allowing only church services and Bible studies and capping occupancy at 100. Soon thereafter, Mosaic's landlord evicted the church.

"Under the current mayor's administration and court rulings telling us how we are to conduct our worship services and what types of people we can or cannot allow—it makes it impossible to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ to love and accept all," Reid posted on Mosaic's Facebook page.

But Mayor Ron Littlefield calls Mosaic a "business masquerading as a church."

Tennessee's religious freedom laws require that the government show a compelling interest before interfering in a church's dealings, said Thomas Berg, a church-state expert at St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

"Physical violence, rape, and other criminal acts are the kind of thing that, under any theory of religious freedom, the city has the authority to punish," he said. If such acts happen often enough, a city can rely on the doctrine of "general nuisance," which is what happened in the Mosaic case, he said.

Security is imperative in outreach to gangs, said Boston pastor Eugene Rivers. "If one is going to host quasi-secular events and entertainment, and be in ...

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March 2012

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