Elderly Couple Threatened With Eviction for Leading Bible Study in Their Home

By Nancy Flory Published on August 30, 2018

Here’s one story about religious freedom that you won’t hear from mainstream media. An elderly man and his wife have been threatened with eviction from a senior living community for …

… leading a Bible study in their home. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.

The Hauges

It all started in early 2017 when Kenneth and Liv Hauge, both in their 80s, moved into a new senior living community called the Evergreens at Smith Run. Because he was a part-time pastor, several residents asked Hauge to lead a Bible study. He was told he could reserve the community room with one caveat: he had to call the event a “book review,” not a Bible study.

Due to a misunderstanding, the reservation was canceled. Another resident offered to host the Bible study in her apartment for the remainder of 2017. 

In early January, 2018, Hauge finally got the Evergreens to schedule the Bible study in the community room, but was once again reminded to call it a “book review.” The community calendar listed it as such. When a friend of a Bible study attendant called the Evergreens about the title, the management finally corrected the calendar. The Bible study officially became a Bible study.

Things took a dark turn last month. On July 23rd, the Evergreens sent out a new “Community Room Usage Policy.” The new policy prohibited any and all religious activities in the room. Non-religious activities were still okay.

The Threat to Evict Over a Bible Study

On the same day, the Evergreens sent the Hauges a Notice to Cure Default or Quit. This notice threatened to evict the Hauges if Mr. Hauge continued the Bible study — in the community room or in his apartment. The Evergreens called the Bible study a “business.”

I’m going to repeat that: a senior living community has threatened to evict an elderly couple in Fredericksburg, Virginia, if the resident continues to lead a Bible study in his own home. 

Now, presumably the Evergreens labeled the Bible study a business because they thought that this would allow them to kick out the elderly pastor and his wife. For example, the home doesn’t allow businesses like daycare centers that require customers to come on the property.

But; this was strictly a Bible study on his own time, in his own home. Hauge was not acting in an official capacity as a minister from his church. He didn’t make any money whatsoever from leading it. Only  residents attended it — so everyone who was involved had a legal right to be there.

Lea Patterson is an attorney with First Liberty, the law firm representing the Hauges. In an interview with The Stream, Patterson explained why the Evergreens used the term “business” to describe the Bible study. That “is a way for them to shut it down through the lease. And that’s the mechanism they’re using to argue that they get to evict him for it.”

The Fair Housing Act

That’s because the Fair Housing Act “is pretty clear on its face” regarding discrimination in housing. The statute prohibits religious and other discrimination in the provision of facilities or services for rental residents. The Department of Justice’s website actually describes the same scenario as an example of religious discrimination. 

First Liberty sent a letter to the Evergreens on August 16 outlining the case and pointing out the law the Evergreens violated. They’ve asked the Evergreens to respond by tomorrow. If they don’t, the Hauges and First Liberty are prepared to move the case forward.

The letter warns that the Evergreens might evict the Hauges. If that happens, First Liberty says, “we would be assessing next steps, which could include a variety of legal actions,” including going to the Housing and Urban Development for an investigation into the Hauges’ situation. If necessary, they’ll take it to court.

An Extremely Important Case

This case is extremely important for religious freedom in the U.S. “It’s hard to imagine in the United States someone could be facing a threat of eviction for having a Bible study, for basically the sinister crime of expressing their faith in public,” explains Patterson. “That’s one of the most basic religious liberties that we have. 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.”

The Hauges’ case is one to watch. 

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