A Florida woman who filed a federal complaint after her homeowners association barred her from continuing to host a Bible study in the social room of her own condominium complex, has reached a settlement allowing her to carry on with the religious activity, a legal group that represented the Christian woman said.
The agreement states that Donna Dunbar, a Seventh-day Adventist lay minister who runs a nationally recognised soup kitchen with her husband, “may continue to use the social room on a weekly basis to hold a Bible study without being subject to special rules or restrictions,” said First Liberty Institute in a statement, calling the settlement “excellent news.”
The group said, “her victory is more proof that we are taking part in a historic turning point when people of faith are reclaiming religious freedom at an unprecedented rate.”
Dunbar, a retired senior citizen, started a small women’s Bible study last year in the common room of the Cambridge House complex in Port Charlotte, Florida, for two hours on Monday mornings. Less than 10 friends, some of whom are not Cambridge residents, attended the study.
Around three months later, Dunbar was told by the then-treasurer for the Cambridge House Board of Directors that the group would have to acquire insurance for the meetings. No other groups were required to purchase insurance to use the common areas for their meetings. After disputing the need for insurance, Dunbar went ahead and complied with the demands so that the weekly Bible study could continue.
However, the Cambridge House board of directors then passed a resolution stating, “Prayers and other religious services, observations, or meetings of any nature shall not occur in or upon any of the common elements.”
Dunbar was sent a letter explaining that the new resolution “prohibits Bible Study meetings in the Social Room.” Dunbar’s complaint alleged that a sign was even placed on top of the organ in the community room, saying, “ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!”
But now, “Donna will be able to freely live out her faith and use the social room just like all the other residents,” the group said.
The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, colour, national origin, religion, sex and disability when they are renting, buying or securing finances for a home.
In January, a Virginia couple, Kenneth and Liv Hauge, who were threatened with eviction from their retirement home if they continued to hold Bible study meetings, also won the right to hold classes again.
The couple were represented by First Liberty and reached a settlement with the Evergreens at Smith Run in Fredericksburg, allowing them to continue holding Bible classes and screen films at the community room.
In July 2018, the Community Realty Company, the parent company for Evergreens, sent a notice to the Hauges saying they must stop holding their Bible study at the senior living centre’s community room or face eviction. The weekly Bible study “caused, and continues to cause, serious and substantial disturbances with other residents in the community,” the notice claimed.
The Hauges’ lawsuit argued that the management had discriminated against them and others on the basis of religion. The suit also alleged that the Evergreens was prohibiting prayer before meals and refusing to allow them to call it a “Bible study,” but rather a “book review.”