A retired pastor wants to do a Bible study with his neighbors at a senior living community. The trouble is the community has told him he can't do that and has reportedly threatened to evict him if he does.
Ken Hauge was conducting a Bible study in the common area of Evergreens at Smith Run in Fredericksburg, Virginia, until Community Realty Company, the owners of the establishment, instituted a policy "banning religious services or other religious activities" in the community room. Hauge then moved the Bible study into his apartment.
"The apartment complex has threatened to evict an elderly resident because he was leading a Bible study," says attorney Lea Patterson of First Liberty. "The letter that they sent to him basically told him that he could not lead a Bible study either in the common area or in his own apartment."
First Liberty has since mailed a demand letter to Community Realty Company, parent company of the Evergreens at Smith Run.
"Basically our letter asks them to do the right thing and stop," Patterson explains. "The primary law on point is the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of religion, among other things. And more specifically, just to give an example, the Department of Justice's webpage on religious discrimination lists a few examples of what can constitute unlawful discrimination in housing under the Fair Housing Act, and one of the examples the DOJ gives is basically refusing to allow a Bible study in a common area when other events are allowed in common areas."
First Liberty's letter also demands the eviction notice be rescinded and Hauge's religious liberty be restored.
If the demands are not met, "we'll be definitely looking at options," Patterson asserts. "We understand the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may be interested if this goes further, [but] hopefully it won't, and everyone goes home happy."
According to the eviction letter given to Hauge, the bible study amounts to business activity, which the senior living community says is a violation of the lease agreement.