SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A Christian woman in Texas appeared in court today as she challenges a ticket that she received earlier this year for feeding the homeless in a local park out of her pickup truck.
Joan Cheever has operated the Chow Train since 2005, a nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry and homeless in the San Antonio area. Her food truck, which carries hot, restaurant-quality meals to between 25-75 people each week, is licensed by the city to provide a service to the public.
However, this past April, Cheever utilized her personal pickup truck to the deliver the meals, as she believed that her food truck was too wide to make it down the alleyways in search of the homeless.
As a result, she was approached by officers with the San Antonio Police Department, who asked to see her food permit. She produced the document, but the officer said that her permit only applied to the food truck and not her pickup and therefore, she was in violation of city ordinances regarding the feeding of the homeless.
Cheever said that the concept was nonsensical as even pizza delivery drivers deliver food out of their personal vehicles. She also asserted that regardless of which truck is utilized, she believes that her activities are protected under the U.S. Constitution—specifically her First Amendment right to exercise her religion.
“[One officer] said, ‘You think I’m infringing upon your right to practice your religion?’” Cheever recalled to the Washington Post. “Then he said, ‘Lady, if you want to pray, go to church.’”
“I said, ‘This is how I pray. I pray when I cook. I pray when I serve,” she stated.
But moments later, Cheever was presented with a ticket—one that could cost her up to $2,000.
Word of the matter quickly spread, and Cheever vowed to not only defy the officer by continuing to serve the homeless each week in her truck, but to also fight the ticket in court.
“I shouldn’t be the one on the hot seat here,” she said. “This is about every church group or individual who wants to serve a meal.”
“It’s terrible to criminalize the poor, but it’s just as bad to say to the good Samaritans that you’re a criminal too,” Cheever continued. “The Bible says, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me,’ and I take that seriously. This is the way I pray, and we’ll go to court on this.”
She was scheduled to appear in San Antonio today over the matter. The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance says that the state and federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act is being used in the argument on her behalf.
“In recent months, religious freedom in America has become synonymous in the minds of many with policy stances on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. These are among the issues that are very important to many religions, but they are only part of the story,” wrote Chelsea Langston. “Service to the needy is a major theme for many religions as well.”
A GoFundMe page for Cheever has raised over $13,000 in support of her efforts and legal battle.