Think you have the right to decide who you want to share your home with? Not so fast, argues Harold Core, director of public affairs with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. According to Core, the Fair Housing Act prevents people from advertising their preference of religion, race or handicap with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling.
At issue is a civil rights complaint filed against a Grand Rapids, Mich., woman who posted an ad at her church last July looking for a "Christian roommate." The complaint was filed by the unnamed woman by the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan and argues that the ad "expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths."
"It's a violation to make, print or publish a discriminatory statement," the Center's Executive Director Nancy Haynes told Fox News. "There are no exemptions to that." As a result, Haynes says, the 31-year-old woman who posted the advertisement could face "several hundreds of dollars in fines" and may be forced into "fair housing training."
The complaint was reportedly filed anonymously after the person church saw the ad on the church bulletin board and contacted the local fair housing organization. According to Haynes, if the ad had not included the word "Christian," there would be no problem. While Haynes admits the woman may choose a roommate based on religion, it is against the law to post an ad about that intent.
"She can choose to rent to a Christian, that's her prerogative," Haynes told the Grand Rapids Press. "It's a separate violation to make a discriminatory statement, to publish a discriminatory statement."
Joel Oster, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, says he's representing the woman free of charge and describes the case as "outrageous."
"Clearly this woman has a right to pick and choose who she wants to live with," he says."Christians shouldn't live in fear of being punished by the government for being Christians. It is completely absurd to try to penalize a single Christian woman for privately seeking a Christian roommate at church -- an obviously legal and constitutionally protected activity."
The law exempts gender preferences in cases of shared living, but makes no exception for race, religion, etc. While Oster says he hopes the case will be dropped, Haynes says that Fair Housing officials plan to pursue the matter.
"We want to make sure it doesn't happen again," she says.