A senior living complex in Washington state is banning its residents from saying “Merry Christmas,” singing Christian Christmas carols, giving religious Christmas cards, and putting up religious Christmas decorations or symbols in common areas.
Owners of the senior living facility claim that government regulations forbid such religious expression, but the Christian law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), argues that there is no legitimate basis for prohibiting residents from sharing Christmas greetings with others.
“The complex wrongly claims that it cannot allow any resident to engage in religious expression because it accepts funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” ADF stated in a news release.
Violating residents’ constitutional rights
ADF Senior Counsel Matt Sharp contends that officials of the facility are denying seniors their rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
“Americans don’t lose their constitutionally protected freedom to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or otherwise express their faith just because they live in a facility that accepts government funds,” Sharp insisted. “No HUD rule requires senior living centers that accept federal resources to deny their residents the ability to celebrate Christmas with religious songs and symbols.”
A laundry list of “nos” was given to a believer living at the senior residence, which essentially forbids the resident from celebrating Christmas the way she has celebrated it for decades.
“The building manager of Providence Place in Chehalis told a Christian resident that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits residents from saying ‘Merry Christmas,’ singing Christmas carols that reference Christ, or displaying any decorations or cards referencing the Christian religion during the Christmas season,” ADF reported. “In truth, no federal law prohibits such Christmas expression.”
The Christian attorneys cited HUD to show the management at the home that they are misinterpreting government regulations by prohibiting residents from celebrating Christmas the way in which they are accustomed.
“[HUD] continues to strongly support and respect the display of all religious symbols on properties receiving HUD assistance,” a HUD document states. “We discourage anyone from interfering in the free exercise of religion and prohibiting residents from celebrating the joys of the season.”
Afraid to celebrate Christmas
However, this Christmas, the Christian resident if afraid that she will not be allowed to share her faith – and punished for expressing the joy she has while celebrating Jesus’ birth.
“The resident desires to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to other residents and sing Christmas carols containing religious references in the public common areas of the complex,” ADF explained. “She also desires to display Christmas cards with religious messages alongside nonreligious Christmas cards on the door to her apartment – a common practice in the building. In addition, she wants to return to her doorframe a Mezuzah – a small religious symbol of Jewish origin – which the building manager ordered her to remove. Interestingly, the same manager permitted a menorah in the complex’s public space ‘because it was cultural expression.’”
The announcement – that giving neighbors a verbal Christmas greeting is strictly prohibited – was directly communicated by the head of the facility.
“The ban on ‘Merry Christmas’ was expressed to the resident by the building manager, Katrina Newman,” WND noted from the letter.
The senior resident is fearful that she could be put out on the street if she does not comply with Newman’s directive.
“But the statements and instructions leave the resident ‘concerned that she will be punished – or even evicted from Providence Place – for engaging in private religious expression and celebration,’” WND added.
Holding onto a lie
Yet those over the facility insist that they are empowered by the government to silence residents and restrict their religious freedom.
“Providence Place’s belief that it is required to suppress religious speech under the Fair Housing Act is incorrect and unwise,” ADF’s letter points out. “The Establishment Clause states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….’ The Establishment Clause is a restriction on government – not on private speakers. Because Providence Place is a private, non-profit corporation – not a government-controlled entity – it is not bound by the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on the government endorsement of religion. Indeed, Providence Place is free to allow the residents to engage in religious discussion and prayer.”
The letter also states that the government is not in the business of shutting down religious speech.
“Furthermore, HUD does not prohibit discussion about religion in the facilities to which it provides funding, [and federal court precedent has established that] simply because the government provides a benefit with public funds does not mean that all ‘mention of religion or prayer’ must be whitewashed from the use of the benefit,” lawyers with ADF assert.
It was also contended that the senior living facility could very likely be guilty of violating federal and state anti-discrimination laws by limiting residents’ religious expression this Christmas.
“The right thing to do out of respect for the senior citizens – many of whom fought or saw their spouses fight in wars to defend our nation and the freedoms upon which it is built – is to remove the ban on religious holiday expression,” ADF attorneys expressed in their letter. “Given that your justifications for disallowing religious holiday expression directly contradict the position of HUD on the permissibility of Christmas displays, we hope that this letter will clear up these issues and that you will do away with this terrible policy.”