The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Woman seeking Christian roommate accused of discrimination

A posting on a church bulletin board has now become a case for the courts:

A 31-year-old woman who placed an ad for a Christian roommate on her church bulletin board has been charged with housing discrimination.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the Christian woman, has called the complaint filed by the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan “absurd.”

“Christians shouldn’t live in fear of being punished by the government for being Christians,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster in a statement Thursday. “It is completely absurd to try to penalize a single Christian woman for privately seeking a Christian roommate at church – an obviously legal and constitutionally protected activity.


“Not content to just lock Christians and their beliefs into the four walls of their church or home, some groups also want to invade those walls and force their own ideas upon them by force of law.”

The civil rights complaint, filed in July, accuses the woman of posting “an advertisement which contained the following sentence: ‘I am looking for a Christian roommate.'”

The Fair Housing Center contends “the statement expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths.”

ADF has asked the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to immediately dismiss the complaint.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Deacon, it’s not a case for the Courts and please don’t play into the ADF’s attempts to stir people up so they can raise money.
For those of us who were around and active in the enactment of the Civil Rights and Fair Housing laws (i.e. “liberals”), we are well aware the law does not prohibit any form of discrimination in choosing roommates or housemates. She could have said, “No Jews” or “whites only” and it would still be legal.
The clause in the Federal law is commonly called the “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding Boarding House rule.” The federal law does not apply to anyone renting four or fewer units in a building they live in.
The claim of illegal discrimination here is frivously and it is not being brought before the Courts. It is a complaint filed in an administrative body (the Michigan Department of Civil Rights).
I am sorry this person has been subject to this frivolous complaint. There was no need for her to obtain the legal services of ADF or to issue a nationwide press release over this. It is not even a close call.
But housing discrimination is real. I am sorry you find the time to report on a rather silly complaint that has gone nowhere and will go nowhere while (to my recollection) not found the time or the interest in being a Christian witness against the harsh and sinful reality of illegal housing discrimination against people because of their race or other reasons.
I would not have a problem about occasionally noting a frivolous complaint if you would preach on the sin of racism. But your silence on the later makes your loudness on the former to appear to just be a way of denigrating the very important (as well as moderate and balanced) Fair Housing laws that so many of us (including the Bishops) fought for.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I can’t help but wonder if there is not some tie in here between the mess in the Michigan state attorney’s office and this particularly grotesque attack on a woman’s rights.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see this was a carefully calculated stunt by one of the many parties to what already ranks as one of the most embarrassing cases Michigan’s government has seen in some time.
Kathrine is right, in any case – unless she’s working as a broker for a third party, one single roommate in one single apartment is excluded from the act. George Aiken, a senator from Vermont (I think, it’s a while back) put in this exemption to the 1964 civil rights act.
Goodness. If this turns out to be true, then I hope the young lady and her church sue the institution seeking to oppress her and file federal charges.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm

If this turns out to be true, then I hope the young lady and her church sue the institution seeking…
While the ADF speaks of “some groups” but never names them. If the complainant is not a group but a single individual, ADF would be guilty of lying, which is a sin.

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John E. Colby

posted October 22, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Since most fair housing laws are modeled on the federal Fair Housing Act, and the Fair Housing Act exempts dwellings of less than 4 units, I would guess that Michigan’s Fair Housing law also exempts a single household, which a woman looking for a housemate would be.
I recommend reading the law being applied here closely. I don’t believe fair housing laws were ever intended to be applied to shared housing situations.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm

for your info Kat this is about a woman who had a complaint filed with a government org about a notice she posted on the board at her CHURCH where normally christians hang this has nothing to do with RACE you want to accuse christians of doing something wrong by saying they should not be upset because there is race based discrimination going on but that is noy what this article or post is even about there is more racial discrimination is AFRICA than has ever occured in America they are still killing and raping as we speak and you want to holler racism

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posted October 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Dear Kedward,
Please go back and re-read what we’ve posted.
It seems that one of this woman’s fellow parishioners (as the notice was only posted in the church) filed a civil complaint with an administrative agency (not the courts, as the Deacon incorrectly wrote). While the ADF is trying to make a big bruhaha about this, I am confident this women hardly needs a big lawyer operation like ADF and in fact no lawyer at all. The reason is that the Fair Housing law, which prohibits discrimination on religion, race, etc. does not apply to roommates.
I’m not sure what the point of this posting was. Should the person who filed the complaint voluntarily not have done so? Yes, course. Admonish him (if we knew him).
Should we not have the Fair Housing laws so many of us liberals worked so hard for? No. And we shouldn’t be knocking these laws which are needed and important.
And, and let me say I am very disappointed in the Deacon here, giving national attention to one frivolous complaint to an administrative agency in the Midwest while remaining silent on the much more common and much greater social evil of housing discrimination is not where I think the clergy of our Church should be.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I don’t know the laws regarding who can rent to who—but I do think that if a person is advertising for a roommate—that person should have the right to choose the person they want. They have to live with that person! Since she posted the ad in her church, I expect she thought only Christians would answer the ad.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 10:28 pm

The clause in the Federal law is commonly called the “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding Boarding House rule.” The federal law does not apply to anyone renting four or fewer units in a building they live in.

So if it’s Mrs. Cohen who runs a boarding house, and has more than four boarders, and runs a strict kosher kitchen, does the law force her to take in boarders who eat pork in the house, or mix meat and dairy, or bring in a sandwich during Passover?

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posted October 23, 2010 at 1:24 am

Hey Cathy! If you set up a straw man, and then knock it down, have you accomplished anything other than show us all you have an axe to grind? (pardon the multiple metaphors)
Let me put this a different way–do you have a better idea for fighting the widespread housing discrimination problem that has existed for so many years? How would You stop someone from renting and apartment or selling a house to someone just because they were a black/gay/jewish/etc? Oh yeah that’s right, you’re one of the bigoted ones, hiding behind your straw man.

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posted October 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Dear Cathyf,
The law speaks to the number of rooms, not boarders. So first, Mrs. Cohen would have to be renting out five rooms. Second, it would have to be a commerical enterprise, not a religious commune. Third, she is free to keep a kosher boarding house and require her boarders not violate those standards. However, while she can require her boarders to maintain the kosher house, no she cannot refuse non-Jews.

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posted October 23, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I think Cathyf was asking a reasonable question. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t think she showed herself as a bigot.

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Kevin J Jones

posted October 24, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Housing law also bars mentioning whether a church or religious institution is in the neighborhood. This prevents church-centered neighborhoods from easily replacing congregants who die or move away.
I believe one can’t place housing ads in religious publications, either. This law kills the income base for such small publications, and probably wiped out hundreds of them.
I don’t think these are good things. The Fair Housing Act needs to be changed.

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posted October 25, 2010 at 10:44 am

Housing law also bars mentioning whether a church or religious institution is in the neighborhood
No, you are mistaken on that. The law does not prohibit such a mention.
You may be thinking of the GuideOne case, described here:
GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company and two insurance agents discriminated on the basis of religion in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The United States alleged in the case, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, that the defendants had advertised and marketed special discounts and benefits only to “churchgoers” and “persons of faith” for homeowners’ insurance, and asked for applicants’ religious denomination on application forms. Discounts were then granted to Protestant church members.

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posted October 25, 2010 at 2:58 pm

This is a frivolous lawsuit. She has the right to advertise for a roommate with the same beliefs as her. It will be unfortunate if this case goes to court.

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