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Seniors at housing facility reportedly told not to say ‘Merry Christmas’

One Washington senior housing provider has come under fire after a resident reported that they were not allowed to celebrate Christmas, or even say “Merry Christmas” at the residential facility.

“We’re looking at all potential legal options if they don’t do the right thing,” said Matt Sharp, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, told Jason Rantz on KTTH.

“One of the big concerns here is that this looks like targeted religious discrimination,” he said. “If they are picking on a particular resident or those of the Christian faith more broadly and saying ‘Your faith is not welcome here, your celebration, your free exercise of your faith is not welcome here,’ that’s problematic as a place of public accommodation in the State of Washington.”

A building manager at Providence Place in Chehalis reportedly told a resident they were not allowed to say “Merry Christmas” within the residential facility. They were further told they were not allowed to sing Christmas carols which reference Christ, or display decorations referencing Christianity.

One resident reports being told to take down holiday decorations. One problem that the ADF points out is that other residents were allowed to display menorahs, which were considered cultural expressions. Sharp argues this could indicate that Christianity was specifically targeted.

Providence Place provided the Jason Rantz Show this statement:

Providence Place is a Catholic affordable housing ministry that is part of a faith-based organization and funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Our residents may express themselves freely, including by wishing others a merry Christmas and singing Christmas carols. We do not limit religious speech in any way.

Each resident is welcome to decorate their housing unit as they choose, however, the exteriors of apartment doors are reserved by the facility’s landlord for their exclusive use. This rule is applied consistently, irrespective of a resident’s religious tradition.

Providence Place welcomes feedback from our residents and we maintain a tenant-grievance process that would allow a resident to raise an issue of this sort. To date we have not been contacted by any resident in regard to these topics. The contents of the letter sent by the Alliance Defending Freedom are factually inaccurate and do not reflect the mission and values of Providence Place, which is a place of peace and healing for our community.

Christmas and the law

According to the ADF, the resident was told that since the residential building received funding from the federal government they are subject to the federal Fair Housing Act which prohibits religious expressions.

Not so, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF has sent a letter to Providence Place’s home office in Seattle, arguing that the housing facility is censoring Religious free speech. ADF has given the housing provider until Friday to respond. Providence Place is a Catholic non-profit that provides senior-living apartments. It is subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The center is taking the stance that ‘Because we take federal money, then we have to be neutral when it comes to religion. Therefore, we can’t celebrate Christmas or something that might make someone feel uncomfortable, or make them think we are endorsing the Christmas holiday season,'” Sharp said.

“The problem with that argument is that these are peoples’ homes,” he said. “This is where they live. Absolutely they can celebrate their faith just like we could in our own homes – putting up Christmas cards, singing Christmas carols, and things like that.”

What’s most troubling, Sharp says, is that HUD’s stated policy is the opposite of what the housing center is arguing.

“They’ve actually, very clearly said multiple times that there is nothing in federal law that requires a senior center that receives federal money to silence celebrations of Christmas,” Sharp said. “Just the opposite.”

Common misconception

Sharp further says that such anti-Christmas rules happen more often than people may assume. It stems from a common misconception about the law. It also happens with facilities not allowing people to pray in public, or celebrate other religious holidays.

“We’ve seen this pop up a lot, this over sensitivity to the celebration and expression of Christmas and a complete misunderstanding what federal law is,” Sharp said.

The hope is that the ADF letter will simply steer the housing facility in the right direction so they can correct their course.

“We hope they will do the right thing and let all the residents know of their right to celebrate Christmas,” he said.

We have reached out to Providence for a statement on this issue and will update this story if the organization responds. 

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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