Last month, The Evergreens at Smith Run senior living facility in Fredericksburg, Va., threatened to evict Kenneth and Liv Hauge for hosting a Bible study in their residence. This followed a long train of religious harassment, culminating in a new policy that forbids any religious events in a common area and a notice that if Ken Hauge (a part-time pastor) continued to host a Bible study, he and his wife would be thrown onto the street.
On Thursday, First Liberty Institute sent a demand letter threatening legal action unless the facility rescinds the anti-religious policy and the threat to evict the elderly couple. These actions are so far outside the bounds of acceptable housing practices, the facility is likely to comply.
“A management company is threatening two 80-year-old residents with eviction to stop residents from meeting together to discuss their faith,” Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty, told PJ Media. “Evergreens management would rather make the Hauges homeless than allow them to study the Bible in their private residence with their friends.”
“No one should be evicted from their home because they led a Bible study there,” Dys declared. He suggested that “violations of federal fair housing laws are very serious,” and warned that “if those violations are not appropriately addressed, we may have no other choice than to apply the law to them in federal court.”
According to the demand letter, the eviction threat came after “repeated religious discrimination by Evergreens management.”
The Hauges moved into the Evergreens in January 2017, and Ken Hauge, a semi-retired Lutheran minister, started a nondenominational Bible study at his fellow residents’ request. Before the first meeting, he asked the manager if he could reserve the community room. The manager allowed him to reserve it, but insisted that he call the event a “book review” rather than a “Bible study.”
Due to a misunderstanding about the starting date, the manager cancelled Hauge’s reservation, and the study took place in another resident’s apartment. During that time, and with the manager’s permission, Hauge posted notices about the Bible study on bulletin boards, but the manager insisted that the notices advertise a “book review” instead of a Bible study.
Also that year, the Evergreens refused to reimburse the resident social committee for an agreed-upon portion of expenses associated with a monthly dinner because a resident briefly said grace over the meal.
In early 2018, the manager finally allowed the Bible study to take place in the community room, and in February of this year, the Evergreens withdrew its demand that that the event be called a “book review.” Even so, several residents complained about the Bible study and attempted to interfere with it.
On July 23, 2018, residents received a new community room usage policy that explicitly prohibits “any and all religious activities from occurring in the Community Room.” The policy allows all sorts of nonreligious activities there, however, including bridge, bingo, poker games, bridal and baby showers, wedding receptions, funeral gatherings, and birthday parties.
On the same day, the Hauges received a “Notice to Cure Default or Quit,” signed by the manager. The notice threatened to evict the couple unless the husband stopped leading the Bible study entirely, either in his apartment or in the community room.
According to the First Liberty demand letter, these actions violate the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Furthermore, Evergreens has “established a long record of obstructing and stifling residents’ religious beliefs and the free exercise thereof.”
Interestingly, the United States Department of Justice outlined a very similar scenario to this one as a textbook example of unlawful religious discrimination under the FHA. The demand letter quoted that scenario: “An apartment complex has a meeting room that is available for residents to reserve for card games, social activities, and similar events A resident is told that she may not use the room to hold a Bible study with friends.”
First Liberty laid out four demands. Evergreens must rescind the eviction notice, rescind the community room policy that discriminates against religious activities, restore Hauge’s access to the community room for the Bible study, and “take prompt steps to curtail the pattern of harassment against the Hauges and other residents of faith who attend the Bible study.”
First Liberty gave the Evergreens until 10 a.m. on August 30, 2018, to comply with these requests, or face the consequences. “Should you deny the requests or fail to respond to this letter, we are prepared to pursue all available legal remedies, including reporting the matter to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
In remarks to PJ Media, Jeremy Dys said this case involves the same kind of “religious hostility” that the Supreme Court found in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In that case, the Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated Christian baker Jack Phillips’ religious freedom by engaging in unlawful discrimination against him that revealed a “religious hostility.”
Masterpiece Cakeshop has been referred to as a “narrow” decision, but it has important effects. The case made it crystal clear that anti-Christian discrimination is real, is illegal, and should be condemned. In the book “So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States?” sociology professors George Yancey and David Williamson painstakingly document the presence of bias against conservative Christians, proving that it is as real as animus against Muslims and Jews.
Even if the Evergreens immediately complies with the First Liberty demand letter, management still not only insisted the Hauges rename their Bible study a “book review,” but excluded all religious activity from the community room and threatened to evict two 80-year-old Christians for practicing their faith.
Masterpiece Cakeshop allowed the Supreme Court to declare the presence of anti-Christian bias in the echelons of Colorado’s government, and this case proves a similar animus even among the management of a senior living community. This sort of persecution pales in comparison to Christian persecution in the Middle East, North Africa, and India, but it is still persecution — and thankfully very illegal in American law, at least for now.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Tyler2ONeil.