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Senior Living in America: The Golden Years Without the Golden Rule?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Senior living facilities have become the setting for new battles over religious liberty.

Unfortunately, a growing hostility to faith has found its way into some of these communities. 

According to Forbes, approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day. This exponential growth in seniors will provide ample opportunity to evaluate how our nation treats senior citizens.

Retiring Baby Boomers affect many sectors of the economy, such as the housing market. Many retirees choose to transition out of traditional homeownership into planned communities designed for retirement living. These developments range from condominiums and apartments to townhomes, but all with similar goals to cater to the needs and wants of an older population.  Many include common areas and meeting rooms intended to provide residents with a convenient place to interact with family, friends, and neighbors.

Regrettably, these common rooms have become places of conflict. Ken Hauge and Donna Dunbar are two retirees who live in retirement communities separated by many miles—Ken lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia and Donna in Port Charlotte, Florida—but linked by similar disturbing circumstances.

Two different management companies, after receiving complaints from residents, issued new rules for the use of the common areas, banning all religious activities where Ken and Donna live. In Donna’s case, those residents seeking to drive faith underground went as far as placing a sign on the piano in the common area that read, “Any and all Christian music is banned.”

In Ken Hauge’s case, after mixed messages from the complex’s management, he accepted the offer of one of the study’s attendees to hold the Bible study in her apartment.  For a brief time, they were then allowed to meet in the community room. But shortly after, Ken received notice from the management not only banning religious activity from common areas, but also claiming that the Bible study constituted commercial activity in a private residence and threatening eviction if he persisted.

Why would a company seeking to cater to the whole person in their golden years ban something so essential to the human experience as religion?Evicting elderly residents from their home for holding a Bible Study is not only outrageous, it’s illegal.

In both Donna and Ken’s cases, attorneys from First Liberty have filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Here we have a microcosm of American culture: two groups of people, religious and secular, living in the same place physically but far apart culturally, looking for a way to peacefully coexist. Meanwhile, those in authority overreact to appease the demands of one group and end up violating the rights of the other.

The constitution and laws of our country, specifically the Fair Housing Act, are intended to prevent discrimination in housing on the basis of religion, race, sex, and other categories. Perhaps both management companies felt justified to misinterpret the law because they banned activities by people of all religions as opposed to targeting one specific faith?

Neither Ken Hauge nor Donna Dunbar would claim to be legal experts, but they recognized discrimination when they experienced it and both had the courage to take a stand against it. How many other senior citizens across the country are facing similar circumstances and wondering what, if any, recourse they have? 

President Trump has made it very clear through executive orders and public statements that his administration ranks the protection of religious liberty among his highest priorities at home and abroad. The United States Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, among other federal agencies, have implemented initiatives and task forces respectively to achieve this laudable goal. Perhaps HUD will be next.

How we treat the elderly speaks volumes about our country. Whether its Ken Hauge’s Bible study in Virginia, Donna Dunbar’s in Florida, or anywhere else citizens gather in their communities, religious liberty should always have a home in America.

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