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Pastor, wife allegedly told to end Bible studies in apartment—as it's a 'business'—or face eviction

A semi-retired Lutheran pastor and his wife allegedly have been ordered by their residential complex to stop holding Bible studies in their private apartment — or face eviction. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A semi-retired Lutheran pastor and his wife allegedly have been ordered by their residential complex to stop holding Bible studies in their private apartment — or face eviction.

Why? Apparently the apartment complex defines "Bible study" as a "business" — and one that's prohibited from taking place in private residential units.

The law firm, First Liberty, is representing Ken and Liv Hauge, who reside at the Evergreens at Smith Run, a senior living community in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

First Liberty provided on its website a redacted letter to the attorney for the complex's management company, challenging the claims against the couple and demanding the powers-that-be stop actions against the Hauges.

The firm also posted what it said is a redacted "formal notice" to the couple, threatening them with eviction over the Bible studies.

What's the background?

According to First Liberty, the Hauges moved into the Evergreens in January 2017. Ken Hauge is a retired Lutheran minister who volunteers part-time pastoring at a small church in a nearby shopping center. Some residents in the Evergreens asked Hauge to lead a Bible study in the complex, and he agreed and applied to the complex manager to reserve the community room for the study.

But the law firm said management refused to let the gathering be called a "Bible study," instead requiring it be named a “book review.”

A scheduling miscommunication resulted in the reservation getting canceled, and a resident volunteered to host the Bible studies in her apartment for the remainder of 2017. But the complex continued to insist that posted notices call the gathering a "book review."

At the start of 2018, the complex allowed the Bible studies in the community room, even dropping the demand that they be called book reviews, First Liberty said.

Trouble starts

But soon, the law firm said, other residents of the Evergreens attempted to interfere with the Bible studies, with at least one verbally harassing attendees on the basis of religious beliefs.

Then a July 23 letter came to all residents of the Evergreens outlawing religious activities in the community room, First Liberty said. And the Hauges got a certified letter the same day threatening eviction over the Bible studies, the law firm said.

That alleged second letter — posted on First Liberty's site — not only says the Hauges can't hold Bible studies in the community room any longer, but also it prohibits Bible studies they might want to hold in their private apartment, as the Bible studies are considered "business" operations. The letter also states that Hauges must vacate their residence by Aug. 31 unless they agree to comply.

First Liberty stepped in at this point and delivered an Aug. 16 demand letter to the attorney representing the Evergreens' management company, insisting it reverse course on actions against the Hauges, citing protections against religious discrimination in housing.

The Hauges — both of whom are in their mid-80s — agreed to stop leading the Bible studies until the matter is resolved, First Liberty said.

“Evicting elderly residents from their home for holding a Bible Study is not only outrageous, it’s illegal,” Lea Patterson, associate counsel for First Liberty, said in a news release. “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.”

What else does the alleged eviction notice say?

The alleged eviction notice to the Hauges, posted to First Liberty's site, outlines a number of other allegations against the couple, including:

  • Their activities have caused "serious and substantial disturbances" in the common area among other residents.
  • They opened the Bible studies to nonresidents.
  • When other residents attempted to use the common area, they were pressured and "harassed" to join the studies.
  • Counseling sessions with residents and nonresidents were held in the community room, and residents who wanted to use the space for previously scheduled activities were told to leave.

First Liberty, in its demand letter, denied that the Hauges attempted to exclude other residents from using the community room, opened the studies to nonresidents, or conducted counseling sessions.

First Liberty on Friday told TheBlaze it hasn't heard anything back since sending its demand letter.

Joshua M. Greenberg of Greenstein DeLorme & Luchs, P.C. in Washington, D.C. — the attorney to whom First Liberty wrote its demand letter — didn't immediately reply Friday to TheBlaze's request for updates and further comment on the matter.

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