Residents Banned From Holding Bible Study, Praying in Condo's Common Area

(Photo: First Liberty Institute)A sign that states that Christian music is banned sits on top of an organ located in a common room at the Cambridge House Condominiums in Port Charlotte, Florida.

A Florida woman filed a federal complaint after her homeowners association barred her from continuing to host a Bible study in the common room of her own condominium complex.

Last week, attorneys representing residents at the Cambridge House Condominiums in Port Charlotte, Florida, sent a Fair Housing Act complaint letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The complaint explains that Donna Dunbar, a Seventh-day Adventist lay minister who runs a nationally recognized soup kitchen with her husband, held a small women's Bible study in the social room of the Cambridge House complex for two hours on Monday mornings for nearly a year.

The group consisted of less than 10 friends, some of which are not Cambridge residents, and is too big to fit into Dunbar's small condo.

About three months after a the Bible study began, Dunbar was told by the then-treasurer for the Cambridge House Board of Directors that the group would have to acquire insurance for the meeting.

No other groups that use the common areas are required to acquire insurance for their meetings, according to First Liberty Institute, a legal group that represents Dunbar. But after disputing the need for insurance, Dunbar went ahead and complied with the demands so that the weekly Bible study could continue.

However, the Cambridge House board of directors passed a resolution on Feb. 6 that states: "Prayers and other religious services, observations, or meetings of any nature shall not occur ... in or upon any of the common elements."

Following the resolution's passing, Dunbar was also sent a letter that explained that the new resolution "prohibits Bible Study meetings in the Social Room."

Dunbar's complaint alleges that a sign was even placed on top of the organ in the community room saying that "ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!"

"The Cambridge House Resolution, both in text and in application, is discriminatory and violates the Fair Housing Act because it prohibits Mrs. Dunbar and other Christian residents from accessing common condominium areas for any religious activity, while allowing other residents to use those same facilities for similar non-secular purposes," the complaint states. "In effect, the Resolution manifests profound hostility to Christians, and indeed all religious residents and discriminates against any resident who wishes to express their faith beyond the walls of their private residence."

The complaint explains that the resolution does not ban groups from meeting in the common rooms to discuss a secular book, a secular movie or sing secular songs but prohibits Dunbar's group from doing those activities simply because it is Christian in nature.

"The Cambridge House Resolution is so broad that it even prohibits residents from unobtrusively praying silently — before a meal or otherwise — in one of the condominium common areas," the complaint argues.

Moreover, the resolution requires that all religious items in common areas be removed — including a statue of St. Francis of Assisi that was donated by a resident in memory of their loved one.

"We want to be there for those in this building, as well as those on the outside," Dunbar told Fox4. "Just be there for them, support them. It's like a support group."

The complaint asks HUD to investigate the claims and take appropriate action if it deems the Cambridge House violated the Fair Housing Act by barring religious activities from the common areas.

The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex and disability when they are renting, buying or securing finances for a home.

"The unequal treatment of citizens in the community simply out of hostility to religion violates federal law and the First Amendment," Lea Patterson, judicial fellow at First Liberty, said in a statement. "We are confident that Secretary Ben Carson and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will resolve this issue quickly."

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