A Florida condo unit owner has filed a complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, claiming that her condo association has discriminated against her on the basis of religion after it banned bible studies and other religious activities from being conducted on the common elements.
For nearly a year, the unit owner had been holding weekly Bible study meetings in the condominium social room with residents and some invited guests. Along with Bible studies, activities included prayers and songs. The meetings were held on the common elements as her unit was too small to accommodate the participants.
The condo association then passed a resolution that prohibited “prayers and other religious services, observations or meetings” from occurring on the common elements. Following the adoption of this resolution, Property Management sent the unit owner a letter ordering her not to use the social room for her Bible study meetings. Property Management also sent letters to other residents ordering them to remove crosses from doors and removed a decorative angel fountain and a statue of St. Francis of Assisi from the condominium courtyard. A sign was also posted on an organ in the common element lounge that stated that “Any and all Christian music is banned.” (It is not clear who posted this sign.)
The complaint alleged that the condo association resolution was discriminatory because other residents were entitled to use the common facilities to conduct the same activities for secular purposes: while the association sought to ban Christian music, readings and prayers, other residents (and invited guests) could sing secular songs, have meetings about secular books and watch secular movies on the common elements.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of this case. If the condo association is found to have discriminated against the unit owner and that the banning of religious services and meetings is illegal, will this mean that the common element meeting and lounge areas will no longer be used primarily for recreational purposes and that condominiums will be expected to accommodate religious services and meetings of all faiths? Will religious meetings and services have priority over secular activities, as there is no law protecting the right to hold secular activities on the common elements?
In Ontario many condominium declarations have provisions contained in the condominium declaration that specifically state that the common element meeting rooms, party rooms and board rooms are to be used solely for recreational purposes. In addition, many condo corporations have rules that restrict the usage of the common element amenities. Condo corporations will rely on these provisions to prohibit religious and business activities on the common elements. If a corporation allows residents from one religion to hold religious services or activities on the common elements, residents of other faiths would no doubt expect to also be accommodated.