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Christian man challenges Houston's ban on feeding homeless, cites religious rights

(Reuters/David Gray)A man claiming he is homeless begs for money as he lies in the emergency exit doorway of a building in central Sydney, Australia, March 5, 2016.

A Christian man from Houston has filed a lawsuit to challenge the city's ban on feeding the homeless, saying the ordinance violates his religious rights.

Philip Bryant, who describes himself as a devout Christian, keeps cans of tuna and water bottles in his car to give to the homeless people he encounters in the city's streets, according to the Houston Chronicle.

However, Houston passed an ordinance in 2012 that requires individuals to obtain permission from property owners, whether public or private, when feeding more than five people. Violating the ordinance is considered a criminal misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $2,000.

"In the Bible, it's mentioned repetitively feeding the poor, so certainly someone who would be following the teachings of Jesus Christ would say I should be feeding the homeless," said his attorney Randall Kallinen.

Some homeless advocates see the ban as a way to regulate charity, but the city contends that it upholds food safety and protects the rights of property owners.

Bryant argued in his lawsuit that the ordinance "regulates a natural expression of human compassion" and prevents him "from sharing food and water with those that need help."

He said he does not want to seek permission to give to the homeless because he does not know "when Christ will compel him to share food."

Mike Blockson, the outreach coordinator at the homeless youth shelter Covenant House, said that the ban on feeding the homeless has created more confusion for people who are trying to help the homeless.

"We have an agreement from the city to feed the homeless. Last year, there were certain parts of the city where they told us we can't feed the homeless, and that's just sending mixed messages," he said.

Blockson roams the city three to four nights a week to look for homeless kids, and he feeds the others he encounters. He said that he was able to feed the homeless without permission before the ordinance was passed.

Bryant is seeking a jury trial for his case and ultimately wants the rule abolished.

Citizens have launched several petitions against the ban on charitable feeding, including one by Kallinen, which has garnered over 75,000 signatures.

On Wednesday, Houston passed an ordinance that prohibits the homeless from panhandling on public streets and building unauthorized encampments in public places.

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