National Fair Housing Alliance Comments on the Religious Liberty Protection Act of 1999 - HR 1691

Document Date: July 15, 1999

National Fair Housing Alliance
Comments on the Religious Liberty Protection Act of 1999
HR 1691

1. The National Fair Housing Alliance represents over a hundred organizations and individuals devoted to the enforcement of fair housing laws, including 85 private fair housing organizations nationally.

2. For this bill to be used to restrict religious liberty would be a grave, and no doubt unintended, consequence of its passage. And yet it could well be read that way, absent exemption of the fair housing laws from its coverage.

3. The kinds of religious discrimination cases which have actually been seen in enforcement of federal, state and local fair housing laws are twofold: in one type-overt discrimination–a landlord, individual or municipality prefers persons of a particular religious belief or disfavors those not of its own religious belief. Sometimes this occurs in a criminal context, but not always. In another type of discrimination, the landlord, seller or municipality imposes a series of values or requires conduct of a type that it believes to be compelled by its own religious values, despite the religious beliefs of the other.

4. There are examples of real cases where these laws have been applied to protect AGAINST discrimination based on religion:

5. Overt: Claims that a landlord discriminated against a tenant because he was a Muslim. Claims that retirement communities limited their applications to -or preferred-Baptists, Methodists or Jews. Claims that landlords sought “good Christian tenants” or a “Christian handyman” to live on the property. Cross burnings outside a house just purchased by Black Muslims. The bill would literally give protections to any person or entity that claimed that discriminating against others based on THEIR religion occurred because of ITS religious beliefs. A new defense to the Fair Housing Act would be created-one that would be repeatedly argued to permit religious discrimination in the name of the protection of religious liberty.

6. Less Overt: in less overt forms of religious discrimination, private landlords of particular religious beliefs impose their own religiously-based values on private tenants-for example, to prohibit drinking, smoking, guests of the opposite sex, because those values are based on the landlord’s religious beliefs. These situations result in the invasion of personal liberties and the restriction of personal rights by allowing the religious beliefs of a landlord to prevail over personal privacy and the individual religious beliefs of tenants.

7. The Religious Liberty Protection Act is not needed to protect religious organizations that favor their own members in housing. The Fair Housing Act and most state and local fair housing laws specifically exempt those religious organizations that provide preferences to members of its own religion. 42 USC Sec. 3607 (a). That exemption applies unless the religious organization discriminates in its membership based on race, color, or national origin. It certainly could be argued that this bill would de facto eliminate this exemption in favor of much broader protections for persons who claim that their discriminatory conduct was justified by their exercise of their religious beliefs.

6. In working to enforce fair housing laws, NFHA has seen discriminators come up with an endless variety of reasons for discriminating. The Religious Liberty Protection Act offers a new and potentially strong defense to any claim of discrimination-the “I didn’t rent to them because of my religion” defense. Because of the bill’s breadth, unlike the current statutory exemption, this bill could become the exemption that guts fair housing law enforcement. Imagine if the World Church of the Creator–Benjamin Smith’s organization–defended a campaign of racial and religious hatred in the housing area by successfully claiming its religious beliefs as a defense.

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