Donna Dunbar, a Seventh-day Adventist who, with her husband, runs a nationally recognized soup kitchen--the Lighthouse Outreach Center of Port Charlotte, Florida--has been holding a small women’s Bible study in the community room of her condominium complex for two hours on Monday mornings for nearly a year. The small group of about 9 of Dunbar's friends was too numerous to fit comfortably in Dunbar’s small condo at the Cambridge House Condominiums in Port Charlotte, so she scheduled the meeting for the community room.
About three months after the Bible study began, Dunbar was told by the then-treasurer for the condo's Homeowner's Association Board of Directors that the group would have to acquire insurance for the meeting. No other groups that use the common areas are required to acquire insurance for their meetings. But after disputing the need for insurance, Dunbar went ahead and complied with the demand so that the weekly Bible study could continue.
On February 6, however, the Cambridge House HOA board passed a resolution that states: “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 that explained that the new resolution “prohibits Bible Study meetings in the Social Room.” Remarkably, the community room actually has an organ, but the board placed a sign on it stating, “ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!”, with the word "Christian" underlined.
Mrs. Dunbar has now filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (headed by noted Bible studier Ben Carson). “The Cambridge House Resolution, both in text and in application, is discriminatory and violates the Fair Housing Act because it prohibits Mrs. Dunbar and other Christian residents from accessing common condominium areas for any religious activity, while allowing other residents to use those same facilities for similar… secular purposes,” the complaint states. “In effect, the Resolution manifests profound hostility to Christians, and indeed all religious residents and discriminates against any resident who wishes to express their faith beyond the walls of their private residence.”
The complaint explains that the resolution does not ban groups from meeting in the common rooms to discuss a secular book, a secular movie or sing secular songs but prohibits Dunbar’s group from doing those activities simply because it is Christian in nature. “The Cambridge House Resolution is so broad that it even prohibits residents from unobtrusively praying silently — before a meal or otherwise — in one of the condominium common areas,” the complaint argues.
The complaint asks HUD to investigate and take appropriate action if it deems the Cambridge House HOA board violated the Fair Housing Act by barring religious activities from the common areas. The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex and disability when they are renting, buying or securing finances for a home. “The unequal treatment of citizens in the community simply out of hostility to religion violates federal law and the First Amendment,” Lea Patterson, an attorney with First Liberty who is representing Mrs. Dunbar. “We are confident that Secretary Ben Carson and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will resolve this issue quickly.”