Religion Allowed in Government Housing
Special Report - September 8, 2009
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is back-peddling on a ruling last month prohibiting residents of a High Point subsidized housing community from holding worship services and Bible studies in its common areas. According to the Greensboro News & Record, on August 25th, HUD conceded that the agency’s policy may have been misinterpreted.
In mid-August, HUD ruled that federal regulations forbid religious activities in common areas of organizations that receive HUD funds. The ruling resulted after HUD received complaints from residents regarding religious activities in community rooms of the Elm Tower housing community in High Point. The housing authority cited Policy 24, CFR 5.109: “Organizations that receive direct HUD funds under a HUD program or activity may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization, as part of the programs or services directly funded under the HUD program or activity.” Elderly, sick, and shut-in residents of the community had been visited by local church members providing opportunities for worship service and Bible reading to Elm Tower residents for more than 10 years. HUD originally contended that it did not matter who hosted the services for them to fall under the federal regulation.
Tenants and Christian law firms appealed the ruling. “The HUD management is not correctly interpreting its policy,” said Barbara J. Weller, an attorney associated with the Christian Law Association. “It is quite common in all nursing home or HUD situations for outside groups to come in and hold church services for shut-ins. As long as the HUD facility itself is not sponsoring the religious program, it is entirely constitutional.”
HUD has reversed its original ruling and will allow the services to continue. Joseph J. Phillips of HUD’s Atlanta regional office said that religious groups are usually given the same access to HUD facilities as nonreligious groups. He urged that HUD regulations “may not be interpreted to justify the housing authority’s issue to prohibit use of the common area for religious activities. Religious discrimination should not find a home in public housing.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.