Beliefnet News

By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service

(RNS) A federal appeals court in Chicago has ruled that fair-housing laws do not extend to permitting a Jewish resident to nail a mezuzah to a door frame, prompting an outcry from the Jewish community.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling on Thursday (July 10), decided the federal Fair Housing Act does not accommodate a resident’s religious requirement to affix the Jewish emblem to a doorway, if the ban on hallway displays applies to everyone regardless of religious beliefs.
The case stems from the condominium association at Shoreline Towers, a Chicago housing complex, enforcing a rule in 2004 banning doormats, shoes, signs and other materials in the hallways.
The Bloch family sued after the repeated removal of their mezuzah — small encased biblical scrolls that are nailed to the entrances of Jewish homes — although the association later adopted a religious exception to the rule.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America criticized the court’s decision, and may appeal to Congress to amend the federal law, said the OU’s Washington director, Nathan J. Diament.
“We believe that irrespective of the facial neutrality of the condo association’s rule, that to ban a Jewish tenant from affixing a mezuzah ought to be viewed as a constructive eviction from their home and thus illegal under the Fair Housing Act,” he said.
Congress may consider amending the law to accommodate mezuzahs and other religious necessities if lawmakers are convinced a ban results in Jews not being able to live in a residence, said Howard M. Friedman, a University of Toledo law professor whose Religion Clause blog follows church-state legal cases.
The Bloch family could also appeal to the Supreme Court, but it seems federal judges want to keep these cases in the hands of state and local authorities, he added.
They probably didn’t want every dispute between a condo owner and condo boards going into federal court,” Friedman said. “This ruling didn’t say it was a good thing to have that kind of rule, but it just said that the federal Fair Housing Act doesn’t say anything about it, so it should be dealt with by state law.”
In the last three years, Chicago and Illinois lawmakers have adopted laws guaranteeing tenants’ rights to affix religious symbols to their doors, preventing Shoreline Towers from reverting back to the original ban.
“In this particular case, the issue is moot now,” Friedman said. “It may prompt other states to come up with their own laws, too.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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