Phoenix church fights closure by the city

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Leaders of a Phoenix church are not happy with the city's decision to shut down one of its properties. The city says it's a safety concern, but the church calls it discrimination.

Pastor J.O. Burns, along with members of The Word Center Church, and Arizona State House Rep. Steve Smith held a news conference this week about recent attempts by the city of Phoenix to shut down the church.

The Phoenix Fire Department said that two of the three structures used by the church pose a clear threat to human life.

But Burns and his supporters claim the city's actions are anti-poor. They have promised to fight the closure and have pledged to reopen church property that was fenced off and boarded up by the Phoenix Fire Department.

"We have been the victim of multiple raids," Burns said. "It started six months ago. Actually, the church acquired the property on both sides of the street and we started bringing in the homeless people, battered women and children."

The city says it's a simply a safety issue, but the pastor isn't buying it.

"They found a way to shut us down across the street over a bogus search warrant for one of the houses on that property," Burns said. "There are six houses and that day they found a little bit of meth on one of the tenants, I guess, that was using."

Church leaders are asking for a full investigation into the issue. The congregation is also awaiting a response from Mayor Greg Stanton, hoping that he will help them assist those displaced by the closure.