By Associated Press - Monday, April 9, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A St. Paul church is suing the city in federal court over strict conditions on a drop-in day center for homeless and low-income residents.

The lawsuit filed Friday said the city is infringing on First Lutheran Church’s religious right to minister to the poor and homeless by placing restrictions on the shelter called Listening House. Restrictions include limiting operation hours and number of people served.

“We engaged an attorney to help us only after it became clear that the likely outcome of this dispute was a one-sided ordinance that, if enforced, would essentially require us to end our partnership with Listening House and seriously infringe on our religious beliefs,” the church said in a press release.

The church would lose access to the center’s social work and mental health professionals if Listening House relocated.

The city implemented the additional 14 conditions in October after neighbors complained about loud, intoxicated and threatening individuals coming and going from the shelter.

“Preventing churches like First Lutheran and organizations like Listening House from offering these badly needed services will not reduce the amount of people who are walking out on the streets,” the release said.

The shelter has been in the church’s basement since last year after redevelopment forced it to move from downtown St. Paul. Listening House filed a similar lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court last week.

Listening House’s lawsuit mainly involves zoning and land-use issues, said Evan Berquist, the attorney for First Lutheran. The church’s lawsuit focuses on its right to free speech, religion and assembly.

City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said her office hasn’t yet received the lawsuit but recognizes the shelter’s importance.

Olson said her office is “committed to finding a way forward that will serve both the Swede Hollow neighborhood and Listening House.”

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