The owners of a retirement center in Fredericksburg, Virginia, who were accused of banning a retired pastor from holding a Bible study in his own residence – and were put under investigation by the federal government – now are being sued.
Officials at First Liberty Institute and attorneys with Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP confirmed Wednesday they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Evergreens at Smith Run and its parent company, Community Realty Company.
The complaint alleges religious discrimination in housing by the management of the senior living community. It was filed on behalf of residents Ken and Liv Hauge.
“The management company’s hostility to religious residents violates federal law and taints Virginia’s long history of religious freedom,” said Lea Patterson, associate counsel for First Liberty. “We’re asking the court to hold the management company accountable for violating the Hauges’ right to exercise their faith in their home and to ensure no other residents have to suffer through what the Hauges have endured.”
WND reported only months ago that the dispute had developed and First Liberty had sought the aid of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Ken Hauge’s legal counsel with the First Liberty Institute submitted a letter to Joseph J. DeFelice of the Philadelphia regional office for HUD asking him to investigate and “take all appropriate action.”
The issue is threatened eviction of the Hauges by the Evergreens at Smith Run of Fredericksburg, Virginia, for holding a Bible study that allegedly “violates his lease.”
A WND message left with Evergreens at the time did not generate a response.
Hauge’s lawyers argue the eviction violates the federal Fair Housing Act. They are demanding that Evergreens and its parent Community Realty Company rescind the eviction notice and a policy prohibiting religious activities.
They also ask for “prompt steps to curtail the pattern of harassment against the Hauges and other residents of faith who attend the Bible study.”
First Liberty wrote to DeFelice expressing concern that the company’s actions “blatantly violate the FHA’s protection from religious discrimination related to housing” and seeking appropriate action.”
“For fear of losing their home, the Hauges complied with the Notice and Policy by ceasing to hold Bible study meetings pending resolution of this matter,” First Liberty’s letter explained. “We respectfully request that the department investigate CRC’s and Evergreens’ behavior and take all appropriate action.”
The letter cited a long list of actions by the housing community corporation, including demands that Bible studies be described as a “book review,” penalties for residents who pray before resident social dinners, and a blanket ban on “religious” activity in common areas.
Hauge’s activities, they contend, were no more than a private nondenominational Bible study in his apartment for interested residents.
The Hauges, both in their 80s, moved into the residence early in 2017. Ken Hauge volunteers at a local church, and he was asked to lead the Bible study, which was allowed briefly in the community room.
First Liberty explained the lawsuit now alleges discrimination based on religion.
The legal filing, in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia, names as defendants CRC, the Evergreens and several officials including Douglas Erdman, Kimberly Zylka, Spencer Fried and Tanita Kearse.
The complaint explains it was not just managers, but a “small group of fellow residents,” that attacked the Christians over their faith.
“The latter group went so far as to verbally accost Bible study participants and, on at least one occasion, physically assault them,” the complaint explains.
The managers, as a result, “decided to discriminate against the Hauges and others on the basis of religion.”
The core of the fight revolves around the community room, which is for residential use on a first-come, first-served basis and can be reserved.
But when Ken Hauge was asked by other residents to begin a Bible study, and began the process to use the facility, managers opposed him, to the point of canceling his request.
When it then was set up in a private residence, the managers ordered the meeting be called a “book review.”
Then officials banned prayer before meals.
When pressure mounted on the managers, and they eventually agreed to allow the study in the community room, the attacks started.
“Harassment … included, but was not limited to: (1) calling a female Bible study participant a ‘f—ing b—-‘, (2) threatening to ‘deck’ another Bible study participant (who is a retired Baptist minister); (3) in late spring 2018, publicly lambasting Ken in the community room with a loud, prolonged, profane outburst… (4) confront Ken by questioning his credentials as a minister and calling him an ‘a—hole’; (5) calling Liv and another Bible study participant ‘Bible-thumpers’ upon seeing them bringing cookies to a new resident; (6) confronting Bible study participants about ‘that preacher man’ (i.e., Ken); and (7) calling out and questioning Catholics who chose to attend.”
The complaint explains the managers took no action to prevent that harassment.
The study-opposing residents both threatened managers with the loss of their jobs if the Bible study continued, and also threatened to contact the ACLU if the study was not halted, the complaint states.
Then the managers gave the Hauges an eviction notice. At the same time, managers banned “religious” activities in the community room.
Also, the Evergreens have refused to renew the Hauges’ lease and they live there only on a month-to-month basis.
Those actions violate the Federal Housing Act and the similar Virginia law.
The legal case seeks an injunction protecting the Hauges and enforcing the law, as well as damages.