Until 2004 the Savanna Club Worship Service Inc. conducted its worship services in the Savanna Homeowners Association clubhouse or common areas. But the homeowner association received numerous complaints from its members regarding use of the common areas for religious services.
One of the reasons for the complaints was such usage was contrary to the stated purpose of making the common areas available for use and enjoyment of the members of the association.
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After receiving numerous complaints, the association conducted an informal vote of its members. They voted 714 to 434 to prohibit religious services in their common areas.
As a result, the association adopted a rule that “No portion of the common areas of Savanna Club may be used for any religious service.”
Following enactment of the rule, the worship club continued holding its services. But the homeowner association filed a court petition for mediation. Following mediation, the club stopped holding its religious services in the common areas.
The worship club then brought this lawsuit against the Savanna Club Homeowners Association, alleging the rule barring religious services violates the federal Fair Housing Act.
If you were the judge would you rule the homeowner association rule barring religious services in the common areas violates the Fair Housing Act?
The judge said no!
The evidence shows the homeowner association rule has been applied evenly, and no religious group has been allowed to use the common areas for its religious services, the judge began. Although the worship club has standing to sue, it failed to present any evidence of violation of the Fair Housing Act or any other law, he continued.
Savanna Club is a unique planned community, the judge explained. Its common areas are open to all its members, and there is no evidence of any religious or other discrimination involving purchase or use of residences within the community, he noted.
The worship club has not presented any evidence of discrimination, the judge emphasized, because all religious groups are prohibited from holding services in the common areas. “The right to religious freedom must encompass the right to be free from religion,” he added.
The Fair Housing Act imposes no “reasonable accommodation” requirement in the context of religious discrimination, the judge ruled. Because the challenged rule of the homeowner association has been applied equally to all religions, there is no Fair Housing Act violation, and the worship club is not entitled to use the common areas, the judge concluded.
Based on the U.S. District Court decision in Savanna Club Worship Service Inc. v. Savanna Club Homeowners Association Inc., 456 Fed.Supp.2d 1223.
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