Article Courtesy of Townhall
By Lea Patterson
Published April 12, 2018
Most retirees buy a condominium hoping for a peaceful, carefree retirement.
Most don’t expect their condominium to target them because of their
religion. Unfortunately, Florida retiree Donna Dunbar found just the
opposite when she moved to the Cambridge House condominiums in Port
A lay minister at her Seventh Day Adventist church, Donna has spent her life
serving her community. In 2010, Donna and her husband Clarence received the
President’s Volunteer Service Award for their work establishing a soup
kitchen and ministry for the homeless. Shortly after moving to Cambridge
House, Donna started a women’s Bible study. She invited other residents and
a few friends to gather on Monday mornings in the condominium social room to
study Experiencing God by Henry T. Blackaby, pray together, and share lunch.
Less than a dozen women joined her.
The condo social room serves as a sort of extended living room, a place for
residents to bring their friends and family. Other residents use the social
room frequently for thrice-weekly card games, movie nights, game nights, and
Unfortunately, a handful of residents objected to Donna’s Bible study,
demanding that the condo association prevent her from using the social room
because she studied a religious subject. Last month, the condo association
did just that, adopting a rule banning “prayers, religious services,
observances, and meetings of any kind” from common areas. The association
did not provide any prior notice, which, we argue, not only violates Florida
law, but is also evidence of the association’s intent to quietly eliminate
any opportunity for Donna’s Bible study to continue. Without notice, neither
Donna, nor any condominium owner had opportunity to speak against the new
With the new rule quietly adopted, the condominium’s management company
immediately began vigorously enforcing the resolution.
It sent a letter to Donna prohibiting her Bible study from meeting in the
social room and launched a campaign to rid the common areas of any religious
references. The decorative angel fountain in the courtyard was one of the
first casualties, followed by a memorial St. Francis statue a resident
donated in memory of a deceased loved one.
To top it off, a sign appeared on the lobby organ declaring “ANY AND ALL
CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!”
In response, my firm, First Liberty Institute, partnered with our network
attorneys at Greenberg Traurig, P.A., to file a Fair Housing complaint with
the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against anyone on the basis of
religion in the provision of services and facilities in connection with a
dwelling. This means that the condominium association cannot refuse Donna
and her Bible study equal access to the social room because of the Bible
study’s religious nature.
The condo association recently rescinded the rule, but continues its
indirect efforts to keep Donna’s Bible study out of the social room, while
embracing a variety of similar secular uses.
If the association were truly committed to welcoming its religious
residents, Donna’s Bible study would be meeting today. Instead, the
association appears intent on finding a way to give the appearance that they
welcome religious residents like Donna, but still shut down her Bible study.
At its next board meeting, the association will consider a rule that only
applies to certain recurring events. It would not apply to the card games or
movie nights, of course. Only Donna’s Bible study would require the board’s
approval to meet.
The message from the association is clear: talk about your religion within
the four walls of your home, but religious residents are unwelcome in the
public spaces of their condo. As HUD responds to our complaint with its
in-depth investigation, perhaps the association will realize that excluding
religious residents—whatever the excuse—is not an option.
The unequal treatment of citizens in the community simply out of hostility
to religion violates federal law and the First Amendment. Indeed, the
Department of Justice Civil Rights Division describes this very situation as
a textbook example of unlawful religious discrimination.
We are confident that Secretary Ben Carson and the Department of Housing and
Urban Development will resolve this issue quickly