Housing Policy Under Fire By Legal Foundation

Chris Williams. Galveston Daily News. April 25, 1995. p1-A

Galveston-A lease agreement at an apartment complex for people who rely on federally subsidized housing defies the word of God, said one Galveston rabbi.

Sandpiper Cove Apartments prohibits hanging almost anything inside or outside the apartments.

Violating the rule, which extends to religious ornaments, can result in eviction. And for Jews, the rule becomes a choice between faith or shelter.

Rabbi Pincus Aloof of Congregation Beth Jacob said the book of Deuteronomy compels Jewish people to place a small parchment called a Mezuzah in their entranceway.

“We are commanded by Scripture to mount it on the door post,” he said.

When told of the rule restricting religious religious decorations in the apartments, Aloof was shocked.

“I could not go along with that,” he said.

Neither could the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation,  which is suing the apartment’s owners on behalf of a resident to change the rule.

The apartments are owned by an Illinois-based limited partnership. Local managers referred questions to attorneys representing the apartment complex, who declined to comment.

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes the rent of residents of the 192-unit complex at 3916 Winnie.

Steve McIntyre, The Gulf Coast attorney in the case, said the foundation is seeking minimal damages. It just wants the rule changed.

The rule apparently means no calendars, photographs or paintings can be placed on walls. McIntyre said the rule extends to religious articles and posters, pictures, copies of newspaper articles and meeting notices.

He said he did not think anyone has been evicted under the lease agreement. He did not know whether apartment managers are looking inside apartments and enforcing the rule.

Monday, Ethel Turner sat next to her front window strung with Christmas lights and said that part of the lease of agreement was not enforced at Sandpiper.

She said nearly everyone had pictures inside their apartments. And there has never been a problem with people hanging religious items.

“Just about everybody hangs pictures or the cross on the wall,” she said.

Turner said she has not heard of anyone being evicted for violating the rule against hanging things on the wall.

The Gulf Coast Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit in state district court April 12, contending that the rule violates First Amendment rights guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion.

The lawsuit states the lease agreement has exceptions for three decorations: Christmas, Easter and Halloween.

The agreement also limits the amount of time the decoration can be up to one or two weeks, the lawsuit states.

The suit states the exceptions to the rule discriminate against Christians and other denominations who would prefer to celebrate in ways different from those in the agreement.

“It also discriminates against families of other religions who have not been allowed any exceptions for their celebrations,” according to the suit.

The Rev. Frank Fabj of Sacred Heart Church in Galveston said he had never heard of anything like the lease regulation.

“I would say it is outrageous,” Fabj said.

Fabj said there is a Roman Catholic tradition of placing crucifixes and pictures of saints in the home.

“Nine of 10 (Roman Catholics) have a picture of the Blessed Mother in their home,” he said.

The legal questions may go beyond the issue of religious freedom.

Anthony Griffin of Galveston, a nationally known civil rights attorney who sometimes works with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the rule may infringe on the right to express political views.

He said a recent Supreme Court decision said people have the right to put political signs on their property.

The question in this case would be whether apartment owners have individual property rights.

“I would be inclined to say they do,” he said.