ACLU Representing House of Hagar in Dispute With City of Wheeling
Number of Complaints Have Been Filed by Neighbors
WHEELING –Kate Marshall’s Catholic House of Hagar may have to stop serving the indigent in East Wheeling amid complaints filed by neighbors about alleged debris and foul language, but the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia is trying to prevent the closure.
“I am troubled by the fact that many of these complaints are about legal activity,” said Jamie Crofts, who serves as legal director for ACLU West Virginia, an affiliate of the national organization based in New York City.
Crofts is representing Marshall in the dispute involving complaints filed with the Wheeling Planning Commission about supposed actions at the home, located at 114 14th St.
“For instance, there was a complaint about someone lying on the ground. I believe I am allowed to lie on the ground in my front yard,” Crofts said.
According to City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth and Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development Tom Connelly, Marshall received a special use permit to operate a Catholic Worker house at her home last year. The permit is now under review because of complaints from neighbors.
During a planning commission meeting last week, commissioners took public comments regarding the house. The public hearing is scheduled to continue at the next commission session, set for 5 p.m. Sept. 11 on the first floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.
Marshall referred questions about the matter to Crofts. The facility’s website states, “You don’t have to live in our house to be part of our community! Come be family with us; we gather in the hospitable love of God.” Also, according to catholicworker.org, the mission of the faithful includes such activities as feeding the hungry, offering hospitality to the homeless, caring for the sick and comforting the sorrowful.
“This is not a soup kitchen — Kate lives there. She lives out her faith in a very beautiful way,” Crofts said of Marshall. “People in need can come and go. I think some are losing sight of the fact that this is a residence. A person has the right to do certain things at their own residence.”
However, Connelly and Humway-Warmuth said there are concerns about a series of 16 stipulations to which Marshall agreed last year. There are no reports of violations for most of these, but there have been complaints about where visitors to the house are parking, where they are smoking and alleged failure to keep the property clear of both physical litter and foul language.
“We worked with them to develop these stipulations,” Connelly said. “There are concerns they are not following some of them.”
Connelly said there are also complaints about meals being served at the house because the location is not authorized for food service by the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department.
“They have a meal that is open to people on Sunday. They do not cook it there,” Crofts said regarding the meals.
Humway-Warmuth said she does not believe the city is expecting anything unreasonable of those at the house.
“If you hear people yelling obscenities at one another for hours on a Sunday morning, you may get upset,” she said regarding some of the complaints issued against the house.
Connelly said the planning commission has the right to revoke the special use permit, but members could also amend or modify it, or they could simply extend it.
“This is not about freedom of religion. No one is saying she can’t practice her religion,” Connelly said of Marshall.
“These are the same rules and regulations that apply to anyone,” Humway-Warmuth added. “We’re not violating anyone’s freedom to practice their religion.”
Humway-Warmuth and Crofts said they know and respect one another. They are hopeful the matter can be resolved without litigation.
“Right now, we’re not suing anyone,” Crofts said. “I plan to present Kate’s position to the planning commission, and then she will be able to answer their questions.”