The sign was not very hard to miss: “ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED.”
That message was posted on an organ located in a commons area of Cambridge House, a condo building in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Residents could belt out the theme song to “Frozen” or Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” but they were not permitted to sing “Amazing Grace.”
Residents were also allegedly told they could no longer host a weekly Bible study in the commons area, according to a Fair Housing complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
On Feb. 6 Cambridge House passed a resolution “regarding religious observances on the common elements.”
“Prayers and other religious services, observations, or meetings of any nature shall not occur at meetings of the Association (Owner meetings, member meetings, committee meetings, or, otherwise) and shall not occur in or upon any of the common elements,” the resolution read.
According to First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, the resolution led to a religious cleansing of the entire condo association. Residents removed decorative crosses from their doors and a decorative angel fountain was removed from a courtyard – along with a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.
The statue had been donated by a resident in memory of a dead family member, First Liberty Institute noted.
But perhaps the most egregious allegation involves Donna Dunbar, a devout Christian and a lay minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
First Liberty Institute filed the Fair Housing Act complaint on her behalf. They tell me residents were not given a reason for the crackdown.
Dunbar hosted a weekly Bible study for ladies in the condo complex’s social room. They sang songs, prayed and most recently were studying a book called, “Experiencing God,” by Henry Blackaby.
Other groups of similar size used the room for thrice-weekly card games and movie nights.
However, Dunbar was ordered by the condo association’s treasurer to obtain insurance in order to continue her meetings, the complaint alleges.
Nevertheless, Dunbar obtained the insurance policy and continued the Bible study meetings.
But all that changed in early February when the condo association passed what First Liberty Institute called a “discriminatory resolution” without prior notice.
If true, that would constitute a violation of Florida law.
On Feb. 7, Dunbar and her husband received a letter from Gateway Management ordering them to cease and desist the Bible study.
“The result of this resolution prohibits Bible study meetings in the Social Room effective Feb. 16, 2018,” the letter read.
So why not just host the Bible study in her home?
According to First Liberty Institute, the participants would not be able to fit comfortably in Mrs. Dunbar’s 919 square-foot condo.
Regardless, First Liberty Institute and Greenberg Traurig, P.A. contend the Bible study group has every right to use the social room for their weekly gathering.
“The Cambridge House Resolution, both in text and in application, is discriminatory and violates the Fair Housing Act because it prohibits Mrs. Dunbar and other Christian residents from accessing common condominium areas for any religious activity, while allowing other residents to use those same facilities for similar secular purposes,” attorney Adam Foslid wrote in the complaint.
Neither the condo association nor its management company responded to my telephone calls.
It seems like a slam dunk case for the religious residents. If management allows residents to play poker in the social room, they should also allow folks to hold a Bible study.
I’m putting my money on the church ladies.