On July 21, 2011, Manna Storehouse and the Stowers family, notoriously raided by a Health and Agriculture Department-led SWAT team for not maintaining a “retail food establishment” in operating their small, private-membership organic food cooperative in LaGrange, Ohio, moved the Supreme Court to protect their rights.
The Stowers argue that the state’s imposition on their property rights and right to earn a living require the utmost scrutiny, and must be protected. They further argue that requiring government permission and licensure to operate their safe private cooperative converts state government to one of unlimited powers, transgressing the limits of state power, while violating their rights.
1851 Center Director Maurice Thompson noted “this case represents a paradigmatic struggle over the role of government in our lives: may government require an onerous-to-acquire permission slip to engage in the most of basic human activities, merely by waiving the banner of ‘public health’ (which can justify anything), or do property rights, and the right to use one’s property to earn a living in particular, still matter?”
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law took legal action on December 19th, 2008 against the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Lorain County Health Department for violating the constitutional rights of John and Jacqueline Stowers of LaGrange, Ohio. The Stowers operate an organic food cooperative called Manna Storehouse. ODA and Lorain County Health Department agents forcefully raided their home and unlawfully seized the family’s personal food supply, cell phones and personal computers. The legal center seeks to halt future similar raids. The complaint was filed in Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.
“The use of these police state tactics on a peaceful family is simply unacceptable,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Officers rushed into the Stowers’ home with guns drawn and held the family – including ten young children – captive for six hours. This outrageous case of bureaucratic overreach must be addressed.”
The 1851 Center argues the right to buy food directly from local farmers; distribute locally-grown food to neighbors; and pool resources to purchase food in bulk are rights that do not require a license. In addition, the right of peaceful citizens to be free from paramilitary police raids, searches and seizures is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution.
“The Stowers’ constitutional rights were violated over grass-fed cattle, pastured chickens and pesticide-free produce,” Thompson said. “Ohioans do not need a government permission slip to run a family farm and co-op, and should not be subjected to raids when they do not have one. This legal action will ensure the ODA understands and respects Ohioans’ rights.”
On the morning of December 1, 2008, law enforcement officers forcefully entered the Stowers’ residence, without first announcing they were police or stating the purpose of the visit. With guns drawn, officers swiftly and immediately moved to the upstairs of the home, finding ten children in the middle of a home-schooling lesson. Officers then moved Jacqueline Stowers and her children to their living room where they were held for more than six hours.
Such are raids are beyond the scope of the purely administrative authority delegated to ODA and county health departments. In enforcing licensure laws, these agencies are only permitted to contract for routine enforcement services. Forceful raids and sweeping searches and seizures are not routine, and exceed the authority granted to ODA and county health departments.
The 1851 Center sought an injunction against similar future raids, and a declaration that such licensure laws are unconstitutional as applied the Stowers and individuals like them.
There has never been a complaint filed against Manna Storehouse or the Stowers related to the quality or healthfulness of the food distributed through the co-op. The 1851 Center will defend the Stowers from any criminal charges related to the raid.