An Orange County (Calif.) Superior Court jury on July 28 convicted Southern Baptist pastor Wiley Drake of breaking zoning laws by housing homeless people on his First Southern Baptist Church property in Buena Park.
Drake, a leading advocate of the boycott against Disney (CT, July 14, 1997, p. 72), held a Bible on the witness stand and later wept as the verdict was announced. He says his attorneys "are committed to taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court."
The jury convicted Drake, 53, of four counts of breaking zoning ordinances by allowing about 30 people to sleep in an enclosed patio and in tents in the church parking lot. He faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each violation. "Buena Park attracts many tourists, and city officials don't want the homeless in their town," Drake told CT. Buena Park is just eight miles from the Disneyland theme park.
Prosecutor Gregory Palmer says the verdict pleases him, but he is "saddened that Drake made me do this." Municipalities are increasingly taking churches to court over zoning disputes (CT, April 28, 1997, p. 72).
Jon Alexander, Drake's attorney, complained that Judge Gregg Prickett refused to allow him to use the "necessity defense," which excuses a crime committed during an emergency because the enforcement of the law would be a far greater injustice than the law itself.
Alexander vowed to "strike a blow against every city official in California that believes a zoning ordinance is of greater importance than flesh and blood." The church also distributes about 25,000 pounds of groceries per month.1
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