An Ohio pastor was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this year when city officials charged him with violating zoning laws by allowing members of the homeless community to sleep in his church.

After a public outcry, officials entered into mediation with the Rev. Chris Avell, and the two sides agreed to work together to resolve safety concerns.

Now, the pastor’s attorneys claim the city has unexpectedly resumed its “harassment” and filed new criminal charges against the Rev. Avell.

They’ve filed a legal motion outlining the latest developments and asked the court to intervene.

“We are asking the court to send a clear message to city officials in Bryan to stop its illegal harassment of Pastor Chris and Dad’s Place,” said Ryan Gardner of First Liberty, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, in a press release.

Do bans on public sleeping turn homelessness into a crime?

Church battle in Bryan, Ohio

The dispute between the Rev. Avell and officials in Bryan, Ohio, began last year, after the pastor opened his church to members of the homeless community.

City leaders took issue with people sleeping at Dad’s Place for a number of reasons, including a zoning law barring buildings in the downtown area from having residences on the first floor.

Officials also raised safety concerns, noting that, during a November 2023 inspection, Bryan’s fire chief found issues in the church’s kitchen and laundry room, including a gas leak, as the Deseret News previously reported.

The Rev. Avell responded by filing a religious freedom lawsuit, arguing that the city was interfering with his religious mission.

After a few weeks of legal sparring, the pastor and city officials agreed to work together to resolve the conflict. Bryan leaders dropped the charges against the Rev. Avell, while he dropped his request for an injunction against the city.

Latest developments with Dad’s Place

Now, battle lines are being redrawn.

Attorneys for the Rev. Avell allege that city officials have violated the terms of the existing agreement by interfering with the church’s affairs without first notifying the court.

“Earlier this week, police and fire officials showed up at Dad’s Place at 5:30 a.m. for an unannounced inspection, alleged fire code violations, and threatened fines of $1,000 per day if the Church does not immediately halt its 24-hour ministry beginning on May 1, 2024,” Thursday’s press release said.

The press release noted that Rev. Avell has renewed his original push for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

On Friday, First Liberty attorneys announced that the city has filed new criminal charges against the Rev. Avell.