Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviews Joel Oster, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, who represents a woman in a fair housing discrimination suit, who posted a note on her church bulletin saying she was looking for a Christian female roommate. Discrimination charges and investigation efforts have recently been dropped.
Georgene: This has to be one of the oddest cases I have heard all year…From the beginning, we assume that there’s some detail left out that would make this all make sense…Tell us what happened.
Joel: It was simply a 31 year old lady who wanted to find a roommate. She’s owns a 900 square foot house, with 3 bedrooms, one kitchen, one bathroom. It’s a small house so she’s put up a postcard thing on her church bulletin board. Saying, “Wanted Christian Roommate.” She wanted a Christian roommate because she’s going to share her house with someone, you don’t want someone who is going to denigrate you, who puts you down. You want someone who is going to encourage you in your faith…She was shocked to find a compliant that was lodged against her and the state of Michigan Civil Rights is investigating a charge of fair housing against her.
Georgene: The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, from what I have understand, a private organization that is funded by the government according the number of discrimination cases they file.
Joel: There is a Center of Fair Housing of Western Michigan, there the ones that actually file the complaints. That’s the private organization. They actually have a contract with the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they get paid a set amount of dollars for these number of complaints that they make. They have a financial incentive to lodge several complaints.
Georgene: The Michigan Department of Civil Rights did in fact move forward with these charges….This is her private home. She’s not even renting an apartment from someone….She was looking for someone to share her home.
Joel: Yes, and they decided to pursue this case. You’re not talking about a landlord here. You’re not talking about a lady who owns several houses and renting them out to other people. We’re talking about someone who wants to find a roommate…We knew that once they knew that they would dismiss this case. But they didn’t. That shocked us….The feds got wind of this and said, “Wait a second guys, what are you doing?” They took jurisdiction over and the feds dismissed it.
Georgene: What were the grounds that they sited for moving forward with this case? What had she violated from their perspective?
Joel: The Fair Housing Act says that you cannot discriminate based upon race, gender, religion, in advertising in the rental or sale of a house. There’s the statute on it’s face and saying that’s what she did. She was selective based upon race and gender to seek out rent for her house. They thought that this was a violation of the code.
Georgene: Who was it that ultimately reported her? Do we know who and how that posting was discovered.
Joel: It find it hard to believe that someone from the church found this posting to be offensive. What we do know is the person who found this posting is not known. They are not divulging this information. The Fair Housing Center of Western Michigan is the one who filed this complaint.
Georgene: You mention that this case was dismissed, but there is still reason to be concerned that this case moved as far as it did. What are you lingering concerns?
Joel: We were very concerned that this does not happen again, that’s why we want to get the message out that an individual has the right to seek out a Christian roommate of the same gender. You don’t have to fear that the powers of the federal and state government are going to come against you. If they do, they can contact us at the Alliance Defense Fund for representation.
Georgene: Was the HUD response? Was it a rebuke of their decision? Or did they return to the state of Michigan to say that they are misinterpreting the law?
Joel: No, it was somewhat ambiguous. What they said was, “Due to the constitutional implications here, we are going to dismiss the complaint.” But they also said, “If what was said in the complaint was true, then that amount to a violation of the Fair Housing Act”. So they’re almost speaking out both sides of their mouth. We are still pursuing all legal action to make sure our client is not living on pins and needles over the next couple of years.
Georgene: For our listeners who are not familiar with the Alliance Defense Fund, let me give you an opportunity to talk about what you all do.
Joel: You can follow our cases at telladf.org. You can contact us if you feel you have discriminate against at 1800-TELL-ADF. We represent Christian whenever their rights to be a Christian have been denied or infringed. For instance, we represent Shirley Dobson, she was sued along with President Bush in an attack on the National prayer. I represent Greece, New York when they opened up their Legislative session with prayer.
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