Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Constitutes a Church?

A Pennsylvania couple is fighting to maintain “a church” they run from a Huntingdon Township home. The problem with their fight is that local government officials say their “church” is really a raunchy swingers club where single men have to pay for access but women come for free.

John and Kim Ondrik say they worship nature at the Church for Spiritual Humanism. But midnight mass at the Spiritual Palace is on hold as the Rev. John and his wife fight for a variance to continue practicing their “religion” in a residential area just outside of Pittsburgh.

Opponents of his church, including neighbors and North Huntingdon Township officials, say what’s really behind those closed doors is a club called the “Swinger’s Palace.”

Township commissioner Richard Gray said it’s been an open secret that a swingers club has operated out of the two-story house since the 1970s, but they finally have the evidence to shut it down. [Are you concerned that it took 35+ years for them to gather enough evidence? Are you kidding me? What did it take for the government to do something—a disgruntled “swinger”?]

Gray said the dispute is not about church or sex—it’s about having a business operating in a residentially zoned area. “The mere fact that they were charging a mandatory fee to get in, in my opinion, would constitute a business,” he said.

An attorney representing John Ondrik said that members in the private church give a donation and aren’t charged to get inside the midnight masses, which typically take place on Friday and Saturday nights. [This might be further proof that what they are doing isn’t church—do any of know anyone who goes to church at midnight, on both Friday and Saturday nights?]

A law professor also weighed in on the matter: “You have a right to run a church in a residential area not because of your free exercise rights under the Constitution, but simply because churches are not primarily commercial,” said Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University.
Ledewitz said the Ondriks might have a case if they can convince authorities they’re sincere about their religion and that they truly believe in their church.

This is an interesting case. Most of us attend or serve in churches that are located in neighborhoods. Many newer neighborhoods even include churches in the design of their new subdivisions. So, from that perspective, I don’t have a leg to stand on to complain about this issue.

However, if the evidence shows that more is going on than worship, then I’d have a problem. While I don’t support a swinger’s palace, no matter its location, a business has no place in a local neighborhood. If it is proven that this “church” is nothing more than a business, then they should be shut down or moved to another location.

What do you think?


  1. Unf. a case could be made for worship. They are worshiping the human body, i.e. humanism taken to its "logical" conclusion. Man is god. But they probably don't want to go there since they would then have to tell what they are doing. Will b e interesting to see how this comes out.

  2. Our church is in a residential area. It actually meets in a building that used to be in a commercial woodworking shop.

    When it first started, the leaders of the church had to get permission from adjacent land owners to have a church there.

  3. This whole story makes me blush and feel embarrassed and I have no idea why I feel so uncomfortable. And it makes me giggle like a school girl after someone tooted in art class. I don't know what to say. This is beyond my comprehension that people do this kind of thing. Seriously. Wow -- my virgin eyes.

    Heidi Reed

  4. All...this is one of those stories that no one wants to read, but you are drawn to it--like a train wreck, you don't want to see what happened, but you can't resist looking anyway.

    The courts will have their hands full with this one. The government's witness is a former swinger, disgruntled "member" of the group. So, who knows if he has the goods on them and whether or not it will stand up in court.

    The larger issue to me is should the local government limit churches from being in residential areas? Should churches be limited to industrial or business areas? What if the church operates a school?

    Those are much more difficult questions for me personally.

  5. I think that it is interesting to point out that we have not heard anything from the congregation of this so called "church". The fact is that this is not a church...it never has been and I am pretty sure it never will be. The only praying that goes on behind those doors is ugly men praying for a hookup and females who are getting "the ride" of a lifetime. As someone who has seen the inside of this place and has met the Ondricks, their story is a crock. Maybe they should consider converting to a new religion or at least to one that is believable.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I can't wait to read what you have written.