A company that runs a senior-living center in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has decided that a Bible study is a “business” and consequently has threatened to evict a retired Lutheran pastor and his wife for conducting one in their residence.
“Evicting elderly residents from their home for holding a Bible study is not only outrageous, it’s illegal,” asserts First Liberty Institute, which has issued a letter to the center demanding it withdraw the threat.
“Ken Hauge is a retired Lutheran minister. He and his wife, Liv, received a notice threatening eviction from Community Realty Company (CRC) claiming that Ken’s leadership of a Bible study violates his lease. The Bible study previously met in the apartment complex community room until CRC instituted a policy prohibiting residents from using the community room for ‘religious services or for other religious activities,'” First Liberty explained.
The actions violate the federal Fair Housing Act, and the First Liberty letter to Community Realty Company, which runs the Evergreens at Smith Run, and lawyer Joshua Greenberg demands that they fix the problem.
“We request that CRC and the Evergreens take the following actions: 1) rescind the Notice [of eviction] and remove it from the Hauges’s tenant file; 2) rescind the July 23 Community Room Policy prohibiting religious activities and notify Evergreens residents accordingly; 3) restore Hauge’s access to the Community Room for the Bible study; and 4) take prompt steps to curtail the pattern of harassment against the Hauges and other residents of faith who attend the Bible study.”
The legal team set a deadline of Thursday.
“Should you deny these requests or fail to respond to his letter, we are prepared to pursue all available legal remedies, including reporting the matter to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
The letter said Hauge “has been stopped in the hallway and subjected to profane rants, and several individuals have attempted to disrupt the Bible study on multiple occasions.”
The Hauges, both in their 80s, moved into the residence early in 2017. Ken Hauge volunteers at a local church, and some members asked if he and his wife would hold a Bible study in their home.
The community room was available, and center allowed them to use it if they called the gathering a “book review” instead of a Bible study.
Later the rules for using the room were changed to ban Bible studies entirely.
The policy change was cited in the eviction letter in which managers stated, “Landlord has learned that you have hosted Bible study classes in the Club Room.”
The property managers said the policy violated the lease, which states, “Conducting any kind of business (including child care services) in your apartment or in the apartment community is prohibited.”
While the managers said the community room should be used for events such as bridal showers, birthday parties, wedding receptions, funeral gatherings, resident socials, pot lucks and management seminars, they insisted they retain the right to cancel any event.
But the First Liberty team explained that the residential property managers allowed other residents to remove notices about the Bible studies.
The actions by the Evergreens “violate the Fair Housing Act and its accompanying regulations,” First Liberty contended. “The FHA prohibits discrimination ‘against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of … religion.”
The letter to the lawyer for the property managers warned him his clients “have established a long record of obstructing and stifling residents’ religious beliefs and the free exercise thereof.”
“Finally, Hauge and other Bible study attendees also have endured harassment and verbal abuse from residents who oppose the Bible study ideologically – harassment and abuse to which your clients appear indifferent.
“These residents appear to take offense from encountering residents whose beliefs differ from their own, subjecting Hauge and other Bible study attendees to verbal abuse and attempting not to impede the Bible study on multiple occasions,” First Liberty wrote.