Two residents of a Southern California senior mobile home park are suing the homeowner’s association for barring prayer and Bible study meetings in common areas.
For 17 years, residents met weekly in the Warner Springs Estates clubhouse for a prayer and Bible study meeting, most recently led by local pastor Andy Graham. But in August 2004, after new leadership took over the homeowner’s association, Graham was told in a threatening letter posted at the clubhouse to stop the Wednesday night meetings, according to the United States Justice Foundation, or USJF, which represents residents Susan Eva-Marie Heraver and Catherine Lovejoy.
Colette Wilson, the lead attorney in the case, told WND the letter essentially said, “Anybody who tries to defy us, we’re going to sue your pants off.”
Just prior to that, when the Bible study group gathered for its regular meeting, tenants and mobile home park staff were allowed to harass, threaten and interfere with the meetings, Wilson said.
During other events scheduled during the week, such as Bingo on Tuesdays, it’s understood that others in the room should be respectful and not in interruptive, but during the Bible study, the hostile residents acted in a “threatening manner,” with antics such as blasting the volume on the TV and talking loudly, according to Wilson.
One woman threatened meeting participants with a pool cue, and when she was videotaped, grabbed the camera, called police and claimed she was attacked, Wilson said.
After the threatening letter, the attorney noted, the Bible study group gave up and began meeting in each other’s homes. But Wilson said it limited them, because they couldn’t accommodate the up-to-40 people who met in the clubhouse, where there also was adequate parking and handicapped access.
Wilson said the meetings were nondenominational and included people of many different backgrounds, including Catholics, Jews and Protestants.
Responding to an attempt by USJF to resolve the dispute without litigation, the defendants argued the residents have no right to have prayer services. The homeowners association, they insist, can determine who will use the common areas and under what conditions.
Wilson contends this is contrary to the constitutions of the U.S. and California and the Unruh Act. She argued “numerous case precedents bar discrimination against people wishing to use commons areas in mobile home parks, in condominium complexes, and in other areas from holding Bible meetings or prayer meetings.”
“The attempt by the homeowners association to discriminate against those who wish to hold such prayer or Bible meetings, and the support of the homeowners association of the attempts to intimidate tenants out of having such meetings, is not only inexcusable, but illegal,” Wilson said.
The homeowners association passed resolution against religious meetings then revoked it, she explained, but in practice, the ban remains in effect.
At the association’s monthly meeting, residents ask about whether they can have a religious group and the head of board always says no, Wilson explained.
She plans to file a new preliminary injunction in court asking that the meetings immediately be allowed to resume.
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