“No soup for you” (NSFY) echoes the now-iconic soup Nazi from the hit TV show Seinfeld in a 1995 episode when a customer is chastised for attempting to change an order, thereby disrupting the rhythm of the food shop. “Not in my backyard” represents another straight-arm negative familiar to most of America.
Although these two notions may seem worlds apart, real life, unlike fiction, has a habit of producing them at the same time in the same place, with unpredictable results.
The city of Brookings, Oregon, has a population of some 6,500 folks on the state’s southwestern coastline. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, a 75-year established institution there, initiated a soup kitchen to provide meals four to six times per week to a cohort of homeless people as an expression of religious charity. During the pandemic, other meal providers had cut back or ceased distribution, increasing the burden on St. Timothy’s.
Timothy, an acolyte of St. Paul, was a bishop who, historical accounts maintain, was martyred in 97 AD for his opposition to the practice of pagan rituals in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city. According to his legend, he suffered from “frequent ailments” for which his mentor, Paul, prescribed a little wine “for your stomach’s sake.” It is upon this element that Timothy became the patron saint of those afflicted with intestinal and stomach disorders.
The charitable activities of the Brookings church served as many as 80 at its soup kitchen for Friday night pizza, a popular attraction. Concurrently, St. Timothy’s was providing rental assistance, internet access, coronavirus tests, vaccination, and showers for some homeless. . . . Along came NIMBY and the idylls of charity were defrocked. Neighborhood residents complained of “naked vagrants fighting with other vagrants; thefts of mail and porch piracy; drug use in front of kids walking home from school.”
The charitable activities of the Brookings church served as many as 80 at its soup kitchen for Friday night pizza, a popular attraction. Concurrently, St. Timothy’s was providing rental assistance, internet access, coronavirus tests, vaccination, and showers for some homeless. According to a church official, Brookings has requested that the church allow up to three people to sleep in cars in the parking lot as part of emergency procedures during the pandemic shutdown.
Along came NIMBY and the idylls of charity were defrocked. Neighborhood residents complained of “naked vagrants fighting with other vagrants; thefts of mail and porch piracy; drug use in front of kids walking home from school.” By definition, a vagrant is a person without a home and lawful means of support. A unanimously approved city ordinance was adopted in October 2021 limiting the distribution of soup kitchen meals to two per week and requiring a permit to continue such service. The church has declined to apply for a permit.
NSFY and NIMBY combined to cause the mission of mercy to be illegal. The church and its diocesan superiors have, naturally, filed a lawsuit to overturn the ordinance as a violation of its religious freedom and outreach ministry. The legal clash pits the deeply established “police power” of government to protect the health and welfare of residents through its zoning authority against St. Timothy’s, which, like so many churches, sits in a residential area.
As the ordinance on its face is unambiguous, there appeared to be no room for resolution or discussion of the conflict between government officials and the church. Nor was it clear that the residents who petitioned for limitations were satisfied by the terms of the statute.
Denying soup to interlopers who may trespass upon private property cannot be described as Nazism. The intrusion into backyards seems, at best, to be largely visual and perhaps speculative. Application of strict NIMBY criteria to a religious activity opens a dangerous door. Homeowners are certainly entitled to the ancient principle of quiet enjoyment within their surroundings, free from intrusion and disturbance. Balancing the two interests is the function of the court but may have better been the responsibility of the parties in this dispute.
There are, as befits an urban location, several shopping malls in the area that may end up on the receiving end of bands of hungry homeless displaced by the ordinance. Virtually every government policy is likely to have a latent, more unacceptable result.
From another view, the Brookings dispute reflects the nation’s current incapacity and inability to discuss or agree upon much of anything. Consider the curious wisdom of Barry Goldwater (1964 NRC Convention):
Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue. .
The NSFY/NIMBY extreme has contrived to amount to a vice, whereas moderation in the form of negotiation or discussion could have accomplished social justice for the larger interests.