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First Liberty Institute

A woman in Florida is filing a federal lawsuit after board members at her condominium complex told her that she could not host Bible studies or play worship music in the common area.

First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm who is representing the woman, sent a letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson last week explaining the situation and demanding action.

Donna Dunbar, a Seventh-day Adventist lay minister who lives in Cambridge House Condominiums in Port Charlotte, Florida, stated that she held a small women’s Bible study in the common room of the complex for two hours on Monday mornings for almost a year. The group consisted of about 10 people which was too large to fit in Dunbar’s condo.

“We study the Bible and sing some karaoke songs,” she explained to WFTX-TV.

Approximately three months after the study group began, Dunbar was told by the then-treasure 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 insurance for the meetings, according to First Liberty Institute.

But after disputing the need for insurance, Dunbar complied with the demands so that the weekly Bible study could continue.

Without any warning, the board of directors passed a resolution on February 6th that stated: “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!”

In the complaint, First Liberty described the board’s decision as “discriminatory” and in violation of 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.”

Nevertheless, the lay minister received a letter from Gateway Management, informing her she must cease and desist her Bible study by Feb. 16, Fox News reported.

Lea Patterson, a judicial fellow at First Liberty Institute, said that “the unequal treatment of citizens in the community simply out of hostility to religion violates federal law and the First Amendment.”

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 are confident,” she continued, “that Secretary Ben Carson and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will resolve this issue quickly.”

Monseñor_Romero_(colour)Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered by a right-wing death squad in 1980, but this human rights advocate will get the last word. Romero is set to be canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.

Romero’s official canonization was stalled by two previous Popes who felt that the champion of the poor had been too political in life to be officially recognized as a saint in death. Pope Francis, however, recently gave the final approval for several saints including Oscar Romero.

Romero made it a habit to denounce repression and poverty just like Francis, the first Pope from South America, has made the defense of the poor his priority during his first five years as Pope. Where Pope Francis has been praised, however, Romero was shot on March 24, 1980. The archbishop was holding Mass in a San Salvador hospital chapel. Romero’s killer has so far eluded justice, but there is hope that the murderer of the slain Catholic will be found as a Salvadoran judge recently reopened the case. The main suspect is currently a former soldier from a series of conflicts involving leftist rebels and right-wing or military death squads. A peace agreement was reached between the groups in 1992 but not before the civil war had killed over 75,000 people including Romero.

In 2015, the Catholic Church ruled that Romero was a martyr and officially listed him as “blessed.” The ceremony, held in San Salvador, brought together old enemies peacefully. The beatification of Romero, however, made it all the more galling to some that the Vatican would not officially name Romero as a saint. “The long delay in recognizing the obvious fact that Romero was obviously a martyr was shameful,” said Father James Martin. The author of a Jesuit magazine pointed out that many saints were misunderstood in their own times. When Pope Francis announced that he would approve Romero’s sainthood, Martin called the decision “an immense step forward for the Church.”

Pope Francis’ approval of Romero’s sainthood followed findings by a Vatican theological and medical commission that at least one miracle could be attributed to Romero. According to Catholic teachings, only God can perform miracles, but saints can intercede on behalf of people and help create miracles. Most miracles take the form of a person healing for no reason medical science can discern.

In addition to beatifying the late archbishop, Pope Francis called Romero a model of peace and forgiveness and has quoted Romero’s sermons in the past. Pope Francis has yet to give a hard date for Romero’s sainthood ceremony, but it is expected to be held in 2018 at the Vatican where the assassinated archbishop will truly get the final word against those who wanted him silenced.