OUTRAGEOUS: Senior Living Center Bans Christmas Decorations – ACLJ Quickly Achieves a Victory
Once again, the ACLJ has stepped in on behalf of residents of a senior living center aggrieved by management’s application of discriminatory policies. The ACLJ consistently steps in to help those who have fallen victim to religious discrimination in private and public housing. This time, a policy prohibited any and all religious items from being placed on residents’ doors. Given that Christmas is just around the corner, many residents wanted to put up displays such as menorahs, creches, nativity scenes, and wreaths with Mary and Joseph on them. We knew we had to act quickly, and we did. Upon being notified of this conduct, the ACLJ promptly contacted the complex’s management and fired off a demand letter notifying them of their unlawful policies.
Our quick legal action led to a decisive victory for the residents of the senior living center, just in time for Christmas.
This all started recently when management sent out a letter informing the community’s senior citizen residents of new policies going into effect regarding door decorations. The new policies permitted a decorative item to be placed on the residents’ doors. However, “items of inappropriate or objectionable nature, including, but not limited to . . . religious statements or items . . .” were forbidden. Residents, including our client, were forced by these egregious policies to remove religious Christmas decorations.
In our demand letter, we explained the Fair Housing Act (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). Courts have consistently reiterated that the FHA applies to post-acquisition conduct including a complex’s application of its rules/policies. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has also explained that the FHA’s prohibition on religious discrimination “covers instances of overt discrimination against members of a particular religion as well [as] less direct actions . . . .”
In sum, the FHA does not prohibit religious expression. The FHA requires that residents be treated equally without regard to their religion. Allowing decorations but specifically prohibiting religious decorations is discrimination and violates federal law.
Fortunately, after receiving the ACLJ’s letter, the complex’s management reversed its unlawful policies in a letter to residents this week. The complex admitted that “the policy need[ed] to be adjusted . . . .” Management then assured residents, including our client, that religious holiday decorations would now be permitted. This quick resolution came just in time for Christmas, and residents can now freely celebrate their faith without being subjected to unlawful restrictions on their religious freedom.
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. And learn more about your rights at Christmastime here.