A Christian legal advocacy group is threatening to sue a Missouri senior living center after it allegedly banned residents from holding Bible studies.
Abigail Southerland with American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) says when their client attempted to organize a Bible study for residents of the complex, the facility offered common spaces to be used and reserved one of the common areas for the study.
After residents held the weekly Bible study over the course of several months “without issue,” Southerland, who serves as senior litigation counsel for ACLJ, said their client was told in June to stop “because some residents were purportedly offended by the Bible study.”
Management also claimed the study was not allowed since the center was a federally funded building and that Bible studies are prohibited under FHA guidelines.
“This is literally the exact opposite of the law,” said Southerland.
After the resident contacted the ACLJ, the group sent a demand letter to the facility outlining federal law, which, according to Southerland, states “not only does the FHA allow a Bible study on federally funded property, but it also expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion in regard to providing facility services.”
“The [Department of Justice] has made it clear that ‘someone could not, for example, be excluded from reserving a common room for a prayer meeting when the room may be reserved for various comparable secular uses,’” she explained.
Southerland pointed to a 2008 case involving a Chicago-area condo association which was found to have violated the rights of Jewish homeowners when the association refused to allow a religious item on their exterior doorpost.
Despite an association rule against displaying items outside a condo owner’s door, the court found the association acted with discriminatory intent because other homeowners were allowed to keep items on and around their own exterior doors.
Southerland said if the senior living complex does not “quickly reverse course for our client, we will file a federal lawsuit to protect her religious liberty.”
“Unfortunately, many of the most vulnerable among us, such as our senior citizens, experience violations of the very freedoms that our law is enacted to protect,” she added.
A number of legal battles have been waged in recent years for the rights of residents living in senior facilities to hold Bible studies and other religious activities.
In January 2020, a Virginia couple who were threatened with eviction from their retirement home if they continued to hold Bible study meetings won the right to resume holding their studies.
Kenneth and Liv Hauge reached a settlement with the Evergreens at Smith Run in Fredericksburg, allowing them to continue holding Bible classes and movie screenings in the community room.
Kenneth Hauge told Fox 5 DC in an interview shortly after the decision that it was “just a great relief to have this behind us and be able to move forward.”
In 2020, a Florida woman filed a federal complaint after her homeowners' association barred her from continuing to host a Bible study in the social room of her own condominium complex.
Donna Dunbar, a Seventh-day Adventist lay minister, later reached a settlement allowing her to carry on with the study.