A semi-retired Lutheran minister in Fredericksburg, Virginia faces the possibility of being evicted from a senior living community because he’s been hosting a small Bible study in the privacy of his apartment, his attorney alleges.
First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, is representing Pastor Ken Hauge. The pastor has accused the management of The Evergreens at Smith Run of a pattern of verbal abuse and harassment directed at Christians who live in the complex.
“The threat of eviction follows repeated religious discrimination by The Evergreens management, including forcing Hauge to refer to his event as a ‘Book Review’ rather than a ‘Bible Study,’” First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser wrote in a letter to the corporate owner of the community.
I reached out to Community Realty Company, the parent company of The Evergreens at Smith Run, and was referred to the apartment building manager. The manager did not return my phone call.
Sasser told the Todd Starnes Radio Show that management also withdrew support of a social event because a resident said grace over a meal. Sasser said the management also banned all religious activities from the community room.
First Liberty Institute is calling on The Evergreens to rescind the eviction threat, rescind the rule banning religious activities from the community room, and stop the harassment of people of faith.
Hauge’s troubles with management began in early 2017 when a group of about 20 residents asked him to lead a nondenominational Bible study in the community room. That gathering eventually moved to a private apartment.
Management initially approved of the gathering provided it was called a “book review” meeting instead of a “Bible study.” This year management relented after a resident complained to corporate headquarters.
However, it was also about that time that Hauge came under attack from some residents opposed to the gathering.
“Several residents attempted to interfere with the Bible study on several occasions,” Sasser said. “At least one of these residents repeatedly harassed and verbally abused Hauge and other Bible study attendees on the basis of their religious beliefs.”
On July 23 residents received a notice that the community room was off-limits to future religious activities. Bingo and poker were permissible, but prayer was not.
On that same day Pastor Hauge and his wife were threatened with an eviction notice.
“The notice threatened to terminate the Hauge’s lease and evict them unless Hauge stopped leading the Bible study entirely, either in his private apartment or in the community room,” Sasser said.
The eviction threat also accused the pastor of inviting non-residents to the Bible study and counseling people. However, the law firm denies the accusations, calling them false. First Liberty also took exception to management labeling the Bible study as a “home business” – which is impermissible according the eviction threat.
“Hauge may be a minister by profession, but he led the Bible study in his personal capacity and on his own time,” Sasser said. “He received no compensation for his leadership.”
First Liberty Institute accused the senior citizen community of “obstructing and stifling residents’ religious beliefs.”
“These actions violate federal law, including the Fair Housing Act,” Sasser said.
The Fair Housing Act clearly prohibits discrimination against any person because of religion. It also forbids landlords from imposing different conditions or privileges because of a person’s religion.
And it appears that’s exactly what happened in Fredericksburg.
In essence, the apartment complex told the pastor that if he wishes to stay he must never pray or discuss the Bible with anyone – even in the privacy of his home.
That’s not just wrong – that’s unconstitutional.