Monday, September 22, 2008

Bill Introduced to Protect Religious Expression in the Home

On September 17, the "Freedom of Religious Expression in the Home Act of 2008" (H.R. 6932) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would amend the Fair Housing Act to enhance the legal protection of the display of religious symbols.

The bill would make it unlawful:

[t]o establish a rule or policy that prevents a person from displaying on the basis of that person's religious belief, a religious symbol, object, or sign on the door, doorpost, entrance, or otherwise on the exterior of that person's dwelling, or that is visible from the exterior of that dwelling, unless the rule or policy is reasonable and is necessary to prevent significant damage to property, physical harm to persons, a public nuisance, or similar undue hardship.
The bill is a direct response to the Seventh Circuit's decision in Bloch v. Frischholz, 533 F.3d 562 (7th Cir. Jul. 10, 2008). That dispute arose after a Chicago condo association reinterpreted one of its rules to forbid the posting of a mezuzah and other items on the exterior of owners' doors. An owner who had been displaying a mezuzah filed suit against the condo association, invoking the Fair Housing Act's ban on religious discrimination. The Seventh Circuit rejected the owner's claim, reasoning that the association's rule and enforcement were not discriminatory.

The bill essentially requires those subject to the Fair Housing Act to accommodate the display of religious symbols, subject to certain limitations.