UPDATE: ACLJ Steps in Again To Stop Another Senior Housing Complex's Illegal Interference With Resident Bible Study
Yet another federally funded senior housing complex has attempted to restrict a resident-run Bible study. Unfortunately, the unlawful ban on Bible studies appears to be a growing trend – especially at senior centers and retirement housing communities. As we informed our readers just a few weeks ago, the ACLJ stepped in to address a senior housing complex’s attempts to shut down a different resident Bible study in Missouri.
This time, the alleged federal violation occurred in Texas. The senior housing complex informed residents of Fairoaks, including our client, that the Bible study was not in compliance with their policies. However, the room in which the Bible study takes place is a community room that has been opened for other various secular meetings. As such, the prohibition of a Bible study because of its religious nature clearly violates the FHA and the Department of Justice’s own directive, which provides:
No one may be discriminated against in the sale, rental or enjoyment of housing because of their religious beliefs. This includes equal access to all the benefits of housing: someone could not, for example, be excluded from reserving a common room for a prayer meeting when the room may be reserved for various comparable secular uses.
A few days after informing our client that she must cease her Bible study, the housing complex informed our client that the Bible study could continue but only with special restrictions. The restrictions imposed by management constituted another alleged violation of the FHA. For example, the complex indicated that our client could only continue the Bible study if its members refrained from saying anything that might “possibl[y] be perceived as racism and discrimination.” Additionally, Fairoaks stated if “any possible violations occur and/or complaints of feeling offended and discriminated against are filed . . . , then [Fairoaks] [would] have no choice but to ask that this class be moved to a private location.”
Our client and those attending the Bible study have never engaged in discriminatory or racist comments. While housing management has stated that the residents are entitled to their personal opinions and beliefs, it erroneously justifies the unreasonable restrictions by stating that because the complex “[is] funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are very strict guidelines on what we can allow in business areas such as the Community Room and/or on property [sic].” Directly contrary to these assertions, the FHA prohibits such restrictions on religious beliefs and expression, and these restrictions actually violate federal law.
Upon learning of the housing management’s conduct, the ACLJ fired off a demand letter explaining that these actions violate federal law and demanding that management remove the unreasonable restrictions placed only on our client’s Bible study. As we explained in our letter, religious freedom is one of the most revered rights in the United States. The FHA protects the free exercise of religion in the private and public housing markets and makes it unlawful “[t]o discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of . . . religion. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b). The DOJ’s aforementioned directive reiterates the FHA’s legal requirement that common rooms made available for secular purposes also be made available for religious meetings if they are requested by a resident. As such, the attempt to regulate what may be said at these meetings is a violation of our client’s rights and cannot be allowed to go forward.
Fortunately, and following receipt of our letter, the housing complex has worked collaboratively with the ACLJ to make mutually agreed-upon changes to their policies in light of our client’s concerns.
Follow the ACLJ for updates regarding this situation and other legal battles we are fighting to protect the rights of Americans. If you are experiencing a similar situation, please contact us at ACLJ.org/HELP.