Trump Administration officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have opened an investigation into MACO Management Company’s ban of Christmas lights and yard displays at a 55 and older housing development in Missouri.
Liberty Counsel recently sent a demand letter to the MACO Management Company on behalf of residents at Grandview Estates, a HUD-subsidized residential complex. MACO Management prohibited residents from decorating their duplexes with outside Christmas decorations, including lights and yard decorations. Nothing in the lease agreement or regulations supported such a ban and residents have previously displayed Christmas lights and yard decorations for many years.
In its December 17, 2019 response to Liberty Counsel’s letter, the management company failed to cite any HUD or “Government Fair Housing Rule” supporting the Christmas light and decoration ban. MACO Management instead claimed that its own lease agreements and “Rules and Regulations” prohibit Christmas lights and decorations, but the actual language does not support the claimed ban, or MACO’s original claim.
After Liberty Counsel sent a follow-up response requesting MACO rescind the decoration ban in order to avoid receiving a complaint with HUD for civil rights violations, MACO issued a memo to residents. The memo states that residents may decorate the interior of their homes and now “their front door and porch area with more overtly religious displays,” yet continues to ban yard displays deemed “religious:” “When decorating with yard scenes we must stay neutral within the community so no religion is offended or singled out…We as a management company look for a policy which appropriately balanced the beliefs of all while ensuring we are not perceived to favor one religion over another.” This conflates the private speech of residents with the speech of the management company.
The memo contradicted MACO’s own recent written interpretation of the Lease Agreement and Regulations, and MACO’s November 12th letter to residents stating they could “decorate inside your home,” but “nothing” outside, not even on the porch, stating “[t]his has to do with the Government’s Fair Housing rules. Everyone in the complex is funded in part by Government funds, so we are required to follow their rules.”
The yard decoration ban continues to violate the Fair Housing Act. MACO is forbidden by the Act from discriminating against residents at this facility on the basis of religion, or from requiring Christmas decorations deemed “religious” to be less visible than those deemed “secular.” Religious free exercise includes the display of Christmas and other holiday decorations. Christmas is a nationally recognized holiday, and banning individuals’ religious decorations or celebrations in a federally subsidized or managed residential facility violates the Fair Housing Act and other federal laws. Any federal law or funding requirement that would restrict or prohibit residents’ religious holiday decorations would violate the First Amendment rights of the residents.
Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “I appreciate HUD’s investigation of MACO Management’s discriminatory practices. MACO’s banning Grandview Estates residents from their longstanding traditions of displaying Christmas or other religious holiday decorations constitutes discrimination based on religion. Nothing in Federal regulations, the lease agreement or residential regulations supports such a ban. MACO Management Company must allow residents to decorate their duplexes, just like they have in the past,” said Staver.