Monday, October 25, 2010

Christian Ad Controversy

Is 'Christian roommate' ad legal?
By Tony Tagliavia

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Is a posting seeking a Christian roommate illegal discrimination or an exercise of constitutional rights?

It's very hard to tell which interpretation of the posting at a Grand Rapids-area church is exactly right, Cooley Law School Associate Professor Paul Sorensen told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday.

"I think it's important to point out that people could choose if they want to -- even under the federal law -- to live with someone who shares their own faith," the professor said. "The problem is, can you advertise seeking that type of person?"

State law appears to allow that advertising, Sorensen said, but it appears the federal Fair Housing Act does not.

The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan -- a local nonprofit -- filed a state civil rights complaint after it received a complaint about the posting, executive director Nancy Haynes said.

"Open and shut -- it's a violation," she said. "What if it said, 'looking for a black roommate,' or 'looking for a white roommate' or 'looking for a Hispanic roommate' ?"

Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, said the logic used in the complaint would also mean the woman could not seek a female roommate.

He said ultimately, the issue is a constitutional one.

"They're quibbling," he said. "She has a first amendment right to free speech. She has a first amendment right to the free exercise of religion. And what they're basically telling her is she cannot go out there and seek out a Christian roommate."

Sorensen called that argument "broad ... and frankly, I think other than kind of the first-blush reaction to this, it's probably not going to go very far if it ever got into the courts or even at the civil rights department."

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is investigating the complaint. It was filed in September and the average complaint takes 10 months to investigate, department spokesman Harold Core said.

Haynes said she hopes the issue can be settled before that time passes. She said she wants to see the woman who posted the ad get some training -- and reimburse the Fair Housing Center for its investigation costs.