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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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You need to find another reason to stop the Bible studies
Jonathan Pait
May 10, 2006

Residents of Heritage Court in Spartanburg, SC received instructions from the owners of their apartment complex informing them they had to stop holding Bible studies in the common area.  Since the apartments are privately owned, an argument could be made that they are within their rights to enforce the requirement.  What is strange is the reasoning behind their decision.

The owners, One Management, located in Raleigh, NC have used the Fair Housing Act in support of their strictures on these residents holding the Bible study in the complex.  According to the Associated Press, Vice President Jenny Petri is quoted as saying, “It’s not our rule.  It’s Fair Housing law, which says you cannot discriminate against religion.”  She made the case they are only trying to comply by the law and she hoped the tenants would continue their study in private homes.

Well, let’s take a look at that law.  HUD tells us, “Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability).”

A key word here is “transactions.”  Nothing in the Act places any sort of limitation – or even offers guidance – on how the complex is to be run.  In other words, the Fair Housing Act does not give One Management the responsibility to stop the meetings, nor does it force them to allow the meetings.

Here are the pertinent parts of the law:

Sec. 802. [42 U.S.C. 3602] Definitions

(f) "Discriminatory housing practice" means an act that is unlawful under section 804, 805, 806, or 818 of this title.

Sec. 804. [42 U.S.C. 3604] Discrimination in sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices

(a) To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

(b) To 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 race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

(c) To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.

(d) To represent to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available.

(e) For profit, to induce or attempt to induce any person to sell or rent any dwelling by representations regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of a person or persons of a particular race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

Sec. 805. [42 U.S.C. 3605] Discrimination in Residential Real Estate-Related Transactions

(a) In General.--It shall be unlawful for any person or other entity whose business includes engaging in residential real estate-related transactions to discriminate against any person in making available such a transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

Sec. 806. [42 U.S.C. 3606] Discrimination in provision of brokerage services

After December 31, 1968, it shall be unlawful to deny any person access to or membership or participation in any multiple-listing service, real estate brokers' organization or other service, organization, or facility relating to the business of selling or renting dwellings, or to discriminate against him in the terms or conditions of such access, membership, or participation, on account of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

Sec. 818. [42 U.S.C. 3617] Interference, coercion, or intimidation; enforcement by civil action

It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by section 803, 804, 805, or 806 of this title.

The only specific portion dealing with organized religion is found in the following section.  This section was created to provide a level of freedom for religious organizations to provide housing to people agreeing with their religious beliefs.  It certainly contains nothing that One Management could use to support their case.
Sec. 807. [42 U.S.C. 3607] Religious organization or private club exemption

Nothing in this subchapter shall prohibit a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, from limiting the sale, rental or occupancy of dwellings which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose to persons of the same religion, or from giving preference to such persons, unless membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color, or national origin. Nor shall anything in this subchapter prohibit a private club not in fact open to the public, which as an incident to its primary purpose or purposes provides lodgings which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose, from limiting the rental or occupancy of such lodgings to its members or from giving preference to its members.

The Act does not govern how the residents take advantage of the Constitutional rights of freedom of assembly or freedom of religion.  It does govern how the owner selects to whom it will rent.  They are saying that the Act does govern how the residents live within the complex and that the government expressly forbids them the right of assembly and religion just because it is HUD subsidized housing.

If One Management is going to take the interpretation of the Fair Housing Act they are, then in reality, they are breaking the law.  They are saying the government sets the rules for how they are to operate outside of renting.  If that is the case then, the law they are violating is the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Thankfully, William Gregorie, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s director for South Carolina, has a more correct view when he tells the AP, “If you let one, you have to let all.”  Rather than having Heritage Court residents stop having Bible studies, it would be One Management’s responsibility to make sure other groups were not excluded.

However, if things go as they have tended recently, there will be a law suit and some court will read into the law what does not exist and the next thing you know people who wish to express their religion through public display will end up like smokers – locked up in their houses.

So much for letting your light shine before men!

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