- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Apostles of Peace and Unity are hoping to spread good will and joy along their fractious stretch of 35th Street Northwest in Georgetown, where neighbors and community activists question the deeply held faith and principles of the would-be sect.

The nine apostles live in a five-bedroom row house in the 1600 block of 35th Street Northwest, an arrangement that exceeded the city zoning law of six unrelated souls to a residence until the group filed to become a nonprofit religious organization last month.

The move allowed the good buddies, all undergraduates at Georgetown University, to stay together under one roof as planned. Religious organizations are permitted up to 15 unrelated persons to a dwelling. The ingenuity of the apostles has been greeted with skepticism, understandably enough, and zoning officials are now endeavoring to resolve the matter. The question of determining the validity of a group’s faith — whether marked by the notion of 72 virgins in the afterlife or a keg of beer in this life on a Friday night — is tricky stuff for government.

Group homes, of course, remain a never-ending source of concern in the city, especially in those neighborhoods abutting universities.

Group homes are often rowdy, unkempt and potential firetraps. Group homes also are sanctuaries for college students and twentysomething workers who cannot afford the high rents of the city without the help of roommates.

The apostles insist they are a religious organization and note their donations to charity and devotion to community service. The apostles also could point out that their living arrangement is not the result of an uninformed landlord. The apostles moved into the home after the father of one of the apostles purchased it for $2.5 million in August.

The home, which sits across from Georgetown Visitation, flies the American flag and has a holiday wreath on its front door. It is an impressive home that fails to meet the definition of a group home in one sense.

At least one of the apostles has a vested interest in maintaining the condition of the premises or be willing to incur the lecture of a parent. That is a fairly safe assurance that this particular group home is not somehow going to hurt the neighborhood’s property values.

If the living arrangement has been met with the approval of the apostles’ parents — and we have to assume it does — then it should not be the role of government to say otherwise.

Yet that has not stopped the hand-wringing.

Neighbors say the apostles, oddly enough, often hold their religious services on Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes with a fervor that evokes the memory of John Belushi in the movie “Animal House.”

In an attempt to reach out to the neighbors, Brian O’Neill Jr., the head apostle, says his religious organization no longer holds ceremonies by the outdoor pool, baptisms or otherwise, and has installed a camera system to preserve the sense of tranquility and idyllic charm in the neighborhood. The apostles can go to the videotape whenever a noise above a whisper is heard on their premises. If the apostles have found a loophole in the zoning laws, as their critics charge, they have done so in comic fashion, in a manner that exposes the intolerance of the so-called tolerant.

A fundamental element is missing from this tiff.

Neighbors, if they want to be good neighbors, are considerate of each other. That means no thumping music at 2 in the morning if you are the apostles and no whining to government if you are the neighbors.

That means the two sides communicating and trying to reach an agreement.

Here is the prospect before the neighbors of the apostles: The Zoning Commission requires the apostles to shed three of their members from the home, which puts the remaining apostles in an eternally bad mood.

So the neighbors of the apostles lose in winning.

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