Seniors at LA Home Allowed to Keep Christmas Tree After Fear of Removal

Liberty Counsel, a civil liberties legal defense organization, recently came to the aid of senior citizens in Los Angeles who protested the threatened removal of their Christmas tree from their home at The Willows, a senior assisted living apartment complex located in Newhall, Calif.

The complex's management, however, ultimately argued that the discrepancy involving the complex's Christmas tree came about from a misunderstanding between management and the apartment's staff, and there was never an intention to remove the holiday decorations from the communal room at The Willows.

"If holiday decorations are permitted in the facility, then they cannot be restricted or prohibited based upon their religious content," Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast said in a Dec. 7 statement.

"Any federal law that would restrict or prohibit religious decorations would violate the First Amendment rights of the residents," the counsel continued.

Liberty Counsel went on to note California's Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against residents based on religious affiliation.

Although Liberty Counsel explained that it was prepared to take legal action "to ensure that the senior citizens at The Willows have a Merry Christmas," it was reported on Dec. 6, one day after the initial news broke, that the Christmas tree and menorahs would remain at The Willows apartment complex.

Senior citizens living at The Willows vehemently protested last week when the staff, led by JB Partners Group Inc., reportedly announced in a memo that it would be removing all religious holiday items, including mennorahs and Christmas trees, from the communal areas of the apartment complex.

JB Partners Group Inc. released a statement shortly after the story broke, apologizing for the "misunderstanding" regarding the complex's holiday decorations.

"It was never our intention to in any way inhibit the celebration of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or any other religious or cultural holiday which falls at or near year's end," Michael Gold, senior director of operations for JB Property Group, said in a statement released by Reuters.

"[...] we seriously regret the extent to which this has impacted the residents of The Willows, and understand and appreciate their concern about losing their traditional decorations. In light of this, we have authorized the re-installation of a tree, which has been decorated by the residents themselves," Gold added.

The tree remained in the community room and management even hosted a tree decorating party on Dec. 6, according to the Press-Telegram.

Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told The Christian Post on Monday that the organization is "very pleased" with the property management's decision to keep the Christmas tree at The Willows.

"We're going to continue to pursue following through on this reversal," Staver told CP, confirming that his group will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the religious liberties of The Willows residents are not infringed upon.

Staver went on to tell CP that the Liberty Counsel has, in the past, encountered similar, "very odd" situations regarding religious rights in nursing homes, sometimes on a multi-state level.

Although the management claims the planned removal of the tree was a miscommunication, the issue still sparked media frenzy on the Internet, and The Willows reportedly received numerous phone calls regarding the importance of religious freedom.

As numerous reports indicate, the now-resolved issue of The Willows's Christmas tree is yet another example of the "war on Christmas," or the annual disagreement between various members of society regarding how much religion should be included in the holiday season.

Even Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) expressed his "outrage" at the tree's threatened removal.

"This is an absolute outrage and another example of a sad, sad trend I see happening in America today," said McKeon in a Dec. 6 statement.

"An abolition of every marker of the holiday season, no matter the religious affiliation, is an affront to our most sacred traditions and darkens what is supposed to be a time of thankfulness, giving, togetherness, peace, love, hope and reflection. These residents pay rent to a private entity and should have the freedom to practice the holiday traditions of their choice," McKeon added.