The Trump administration, specifically the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under Secretary Ben Carson, is investigating an apparent ban on religious Christmas displays at a senior living apartment complex in Independence, Missouri.
In a letter to residents at Grandview Estates Apartments, a manager suggested that any holiday decorations outside any apartment would violate federal law. The Christian nonprofit Liberty Counsel sent the management company a letter explaining that Christmas decorations do not violate any federal law, and Liberty Counsel also notified HUD.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver told PJ Media that HUD called his organization. Carson has directed HUD to file a complaint with the management company, MACO Management.
“Can we decorate for Holidays? We are welcome to decorate inside your home, but nothing outside. This has to do with the Government’s Fair Housing rules,” the building manager wrote in a letter to residents on November 12. “Everyone in the complex is funded in part by Government funds, so we are required to follow their rules.” The letter said the ban would apply to holiday wreaths, but there was a special dispensation for a “Holiday Wreath contest.”
Management later warned residents that “any violations [of this rule] twice in six months will result in the termination of your lease.”
There is no HUD policy preventing holiday displays, however. In fact, Liberty Counsel directed MACO Management to a HUD policy supporting Christmas decorations and warned the company against discrimination against religious residents.
“Please promptly inform Liberty Counsel about the specific written HUD guidance relied upon by MACO Management for this directive. I am unaware of any HUD guidance supportive of such a directive, which contradicts previous HUD guidance regarding the holidays, which is attached for your ready reference,” Liberty Counsel wrote in a letter to the company.
“In addition, under the Fair Housing Act, MACO is forbidden from discriminating against residents at this facility on the basis of religion,” the letter continued. “Religious free exercise includes the display of holiday decorations. Christmas is a nationally recognized holiday. To ban religious decorations or celebrations in a federally subsidized or managed residential facility violates the Fair Housing Act and other federal laws.”
Liberty Counsel cited the guidance, which states on its website:
The holiday season is an opportunity to celebrate our diverse traditions and faiths. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to strongly support and respect the display of all religious symbols on properties receiving HUD assistance. We discourage anyone from interfering in the free exercise of religion and prohibiting residents from celebrating the joys of the season.
MACO Management sent another letter to residents on December 20, claiming “We have never BANNED Christmas decorations nor will we in the future. However, as a public housing provider we must stay in alignment and neutral on all religious activities. ALL residents may absolutely decorate as they see fit the interior of their units however they choose as well as their front door and porch area with more overtly religious displays.”
Even this letter, however, continued to ban religious displays in the yard.
Staver celebrated the HUD investigation.
“I appreciate HUD’s investigation of MACO Management’s discriminatory practices,” he said in a statement. “MACO’s banning Grandview Estates residents from their longstanding traditions of displaying Christmas or other religious holiday decorations constitutes discrimination based on religion. Nothing in Federal regulations, the lease agreement or residential regulations supports such a ban. MACO Management Company must allow residents to decorate their duplexes, just like they have in the past.”
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.