An elderly Christian couple living in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was threatened with eviction if they didn’t stop hosting a Bible study in their private apartment, because doing so is, according to the residential complex, classified as running “a business.”
On Aug. 16, First Liberty, a faith-based law firm specializing in cases related to religious freedom, sent a letter to the law firm representing Evergreens at Smith Run, a senior living community, on behalf of former Lutheran minister Ken Hauge and his wife, Liv, both of whom are in their mid-80s.
The Hauges moved into the Evergreens in January 2017. Ken Hauge volunteers as a part-time pastor for a local church that meets in a nearby shopping center. Some of the congregants, according to First Liberty, asked him if he and his wife would be willing to host a community group. They agreed and applied to use the apartment complex’s community space for their faith-based meetings.
Since it's #SeniorCitizensDay let us introduce you to our newest victim of anti-religious hostility: Ken Hauge. Evicting senior citizens from their home for leading a Bible study is not only outrageous, it's illegal. https://t.co/yeGGseTQIz pic.twitter.com/8gAxrjL8GC
— First Liberty (@1stLiberty) August 22, 2018
The group was permitted to use the space, as long as they didn’t refer to the meeting as a “Bible study.” Instead, they had to brand it as a “book review” club.
After a miscommunication over scheduling, the reservation was erroneously cancelled, so another resident volunteered to host the Bible study in her apartment for the rest of 2017. Even though the event was held in a private residence, the apartment complex required any signage notifying other residents of the meeting still refer to the gathering as a “book review” club.
Things were looking up at the start of 2018, when the apartment complex finally allowed the Christian group to use the community space, even dropping the requirement that the gathering be called a “book review” club. Then other complex-dwellers complained, according to First Liberty.
As a result of the kerfuffle the gatherings caused, the apartment complex implemented a zero-tolerance policy over any Bible studies, a new rule spelled out in a letter issued to every resident.
In an alleged second letter, reportedly sent directly to the Hauges, the older couple was prohibited from holding a Bible study at all — even in the privacy of their own apartment. The complex’s reason? Such an event constitutes “business” in a space zoned only for residential use.
The supposed letter also gave the Hauges an ultimatum: They were ordered to stop the Bible study or face eviction Aug. 31. That’s when First Liberty stepped in, arguing the apartment complex was guilty of discrimination, a clear violation of fair housing regulations.
“Evicting elderly residents from their home for holding a Bible study is not only outrageous, it’s illegal,” Lea Patterson, associate counsel for First Liberty, said in a press release. “It’s frightening that a management company would use the threat of eviction to stop residents from meeting together to discuss any issue, let alone their faith.”
First Liberty, in its letter to the Evergreens, also denied the Hauges ever opened up the Bible study to nonresidents, attempted to exclude any residents from participating in the event, or tried to conduct professional counseling sessions on-site — all claims leveled in the alleged eviction notice.