Friday, November 5, 2010

Woman sued for seeking Christian roommate, and ADF came to her defense

A 31-year-old nursing student advertised on her church bulletin board for a Christian roommate to share her 900 sq. ft. house.  Someone took the ad down from the bulletin board and reported it to HUD.  HUD told her she was in violation of the law, needed to attend classes to learn how not to be discriminatory, and had to pay a fine.  ADF lawyers took up her cause.

For original articles and references, click here/here.

HUD has been given authority to enforce the Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion. Protected classes were expanded in 1974.

 (The FHA exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members. It is illegal for anyone to advertise a preference based on the protected classes listed above.)

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"This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act."
"Fair Housing is the right of individuals to obtain the housing of their choice (rent an apartment, buy a home, obtain a mortgage, buy homeowners insurance, etc.), free from discrimination based on the protected classes."

If someone violates the Fair Housing Act, then HUD can require the offender to compensate for actual damages.
 Apparently, a 31-year-old Christian woman who wanted a Christian roommate violated the Fair House law by advertising for a roommate on a bulletin board at her church, stating, "Christian roommate wanted."

Since the ad "expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths,” according to the complaint filed by the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, she is in violation of the law.

The case was turned over to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Depending on the outcome of the case, the woman could face several hundreds of dollars in fines and “fair housing training so it doesn’t happen again.”

What kind of law says a woman cannot express in advertising the kind of person she is looking for as a roommate based on any criteria she wishes?

The Alliance Defense Fund has taken on her case:

"Christians shouldn't live in fear of being punished by the government for being Christians. It is completely absurd to try to penalize a single Christian woman for privately seeking a Christian roommate at church -- an obviously legal and constitutionally protected activity. Not content to just lock Christians and their beliefs into the four walls of their church or home, some groups also want to invade those walls and force their own ideas upon them by force of law."

"The First Amendment guarantees us Freedom of Religion, and we have the right to live with someone of the same faith. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is denying her rights by pursuing this complaint."

A letter has been sent to the state asking the authorities to dismiss the case as groundless.

Nancy Haynes of the Fair Housing Center agreed the woman has every right to seek and live with a Christian roommate. She just can't advertise it publicly.

For real?

The state wants the woman to get training in federal law, and they want her to reimburse the Fair Housing Center $300 for the time it took to investigate the complaint.

According to Joel Oster of the ADF:
---"Well, oddly enough if you look at this statute, it does not provide even an exception based upon gender," states the attorney. "So according to this statute, she can't even discriminate based upon gender. If you look at this, this lady would have to accept a male roommate of an opposite or an opposing religious belief into her house. It's preposterous."
"Oster believes the rule needs to be clarified, and says his client is considering a lawsuit to bring about that change if necessary."

Tue, 11/09/2010 - 20:35
ADF President and CEO Alan E. Sears writing at Inside the Issues: "If you have any doubts that things are changing in America today, consider the case of a single woman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who posted an advertisement for a roommate on her church bulletin board. As a Christian, she stipulated that she’d like the roommate to be a Christian, too . . . Unfortunately, even though the complaint was dismissed, the problematic 'anti-discrimination' housing law – which states that a person cannot seek out renters based on gender or religion – is still in effect. ADF is considering filing a lawsuit to strike down this problematic law, based on how it was applied in this case."

"She is not prohibited by either federal law or state law from seeking a Christian roommate. Neither Title VII of the US Fair Housing Civil Rights Act of 1968 nor the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act No. 453 prevents a woman like [her] from seeking a Christian roommate."

HUD's application of the law is a violation of the First Amendment right to freely associate.

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster called the attempt to criminalize Rowe's effort to seek a Christian roommate "nothing short of absurd."

ADF attorneys sent a letter on behalf of the single woman. They asserted that the complaint was groundless and that any government interference would be a blatant violation of Rowe's First Amendment rights to freedom of association.

After an investigation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a dismissal stating that there was no reasonable cause for the allegation.

Oster of ADF stated:
"This complaint should have never been brought. It is borderline frivolous to suggest that a single lady can be fined by the government simply for seeking a Christian female roommate to share her 900-square-foot house."
"HUD did the right thing through its dismissal of the frivolous complaint. Anti-religious groups wanting to confine Christians and their beliefs within the four walls of their church or home cannot also invade those very walls by forcing their own ideas upon Christians through threats of severe punishment.”

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights said that its probe revealed "legal issues that involved questions of federal and possibly U.S. constitutional law, which required that we coordinate with HUD to assure uniform application nationwide."

ADF made clear that even though the complaint was dismissed, the "anti-discrimination" housing law is still in effect. The law states that a person cannot seek out renters based on gender or religion.

ADF may decide to file a lawsuit to strike down the law as it was applied in the church bulletin board case.

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