Your Legal System at Work

According to Fox News, a woman in Grand Rapids, Michigan has had a civil rights complaint filed against her because she posted an advertisement on her church bulletin board seeking a Christian roommate. Evidently the Fair Housing laws intended to keep people from refusing to sell or rent to minorities can be used to keep a Christian from expressing the desire to share an apartment with someone who shares their faith. The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan said that this was illegal—“It's a violation to make, print or publish a discriminatory statement. There are no exemptions to that.” Yeah but what if it wasn't printed or published but written out in cursive and thumbtacked to a church bulletin board?

Not that this really matters, but the first thing I thought of when I saw this story was “Grand Rapids, Michigan?” Grand Rapids is the headquarters for some of the biggest companies in Christian publishing—like Zondervan and Eerdmans. The ad was posted on a church bulletin board;  It wasn't plastered on the church marquee or spray painted on a mosque or synagogue?  Do the good folks at Fair Housing really have spies trolling area churches looking for violators?

Several questions come to mind here. First, would it also have been illegal to express a preference for the gender of the desired roommate? After all, gender bias is illegal, right? Would any woman seeking another woman to share an apartment also be breaking the law because she was discriminating against men? Will fair housing laws women to accept men as roommates rather than discriminate on the basis of gender? After all, it worked on Three’s Company, right?

What if the ad had read, “Wanted: Michigan Wolverine fan to share apartment?” Would Michigan State fans have the right to sue for discrimination? Is it OK to look for someone to share an apartment based on shared interests? What if the ad had read “Wanted: Person interested in praise music and potlucks to share apartment?” Is the word “Christian” so loaded or loathed that this is the reason that the law was called? Would advertising any other shared interest as the basis for a roommate caused the same reaction?

Several years ago, there was a fair housing case in Michigan where two Christian women who refused a lesbian who answered their ad for a third roommate were fined and required to attend sensitivity training. Now it seems that Christian women can’t look for other Christian women to share apartments with… even if they advertise only at their church?

There is something just wrong here, but what is it? Is this a case of anti-Christian bias and persecution? Or is it that the folks at Fair Housing Center of West Michigan just don’t have real cases of housing discrimination going on so they have to spend their time on things like this? Or is it that some people have about enough common sense to half-fill a thimble?

Excuse me, but I need to walk down the hall and check out our bulletin board to make sure we don’t have any discriminatory ads posted that could get us sued.