Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Last Prejudice?


We are petty and tribal, we people.

A relative of mine posted a link on Facebook to a story out of Michigan:
Michigan Woman Faces Civil Rights Complaint for Seeking a Christian Roommate
A civil rights complaint has been filed against a woman in Grand Rapids, Mich., who posted an advertisement at her church last July seeking a Christian roommate.

The ad "expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths,” according to the complaint filed by the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan.

"It's a violation to make, print or publish a discriminatory statement," Executive Director Nancy Haynes told Fox News. "There are no exemptions to that."

Haynes said the unnamed 31-year-old woman’s case was turned over to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Depending on the outcome of the case, she said, the woman could face several hundreds of dollars in fines and “fair housing training so it doesn’t happen again.”

Harold Core, director of public affairs with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, told the Grand Rapids Press that the Fair Housing Act prevents people from publishing an advertisement stating their preference of religion, race or handicap with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling.

"It's really difficult to say at this point what could potentially happen," he told the newspaper, noting that there are exemptions in the law for gender when there is a shared living space.

But Joel Oster, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the woman free of charge, describes the case as "outrageous."

"Clearly this woman has a right to pick and choose who she wants to live with," he said.

"Christians shouldn't live in fear of being punished by the government for being Christians. It is completely absurd to try to penalize a single Christian woman for privately seeking a Christian roommate at church -- an obviously legal and constitutionally protected activity."

Haynes said the person who filed the initial complaint saw the ad on the church bulletin board and contacted the local fair housing organization.

The ad included the words, "Christian roommate wanted," along with the woman's contact information. Had the ad not included the word "Christian," Haynes said, it would not have been illegal.

"If you read it and you were not Christian, would you not feel welcome to rent there?" Haynes asked.

Oster said he hopes the case will eventually be dropped and that he's sent a letter to the state asking the authorities to dismiss the case as groundless.

"The First Amendment guarantees us Freedom of Religion," he said. "And we have the right to live with someone of the same faith. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is denying her rights by pursuing this complaint."

But Haynes said officials plan on pursuing the matter.

"We want to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

My relative's comment on the story was "Are you kidding me?????????," meaning he felt the complaint was patently ridiculous, unjust, or out of order. Others agreed with his viewpoint:

Comment 1: "WOW! That's unbelievable...."

Comment 2: "the last prejudice....."

Comment 3: "Sadly believable. PC run amuck."

Let me say from the outset that I probably side with the woman who posted the advertisement to some extent. I certainly don't think she ought to be fined or subjected to sensitivity training.

However, in specifying a certain type of roommate from the outset, the woman expressed her own prejudice. I think, therefore, there are grounds for this complaint. Although we might sympathize with the woman who made the ad, the complaint is not trivial and not prejudicial against Christians. I'm not a lawyer, but to me the complaint raises a very interesting and important question about where we draw the line between the rights of the private individual seeking a roommate and the many potential roommates seeking a place to live.

After some internal deliberation, I decided to post my own comment:
Similar situation: person faces civil rights complaint for seeking a white roommate.

From the website of the complaining organization, the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan: "What is Fair Housing? Fair Housing is the right of individuals ...to obtain the housing of their choice (ie: rent an apartment, buy a home, obtain a mortgage, purchase homeowners insurance etc.), free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, mental or physical disability, familial status, marital status, age, sexual preference, and legal and verifiable source of income. These rights are assured by Federal, State and local fair housing laws."
My comment goes back to the idea that the complaint is at least valid. In the white/non-white context, the validity is more clear.

One commenter makes what I think is a reasonable response, but the second commenter is hysterical. This is the same one who had earlier bought in the comment on "the last prejudice."

Comment 5: "from the article 'The ad included the words, "Christian roommate wanted,"' she didn't say 'no - non-christians' - she just gave what she was looking for, like 'non-smoker' Plus, she advertised at her CHURCH - who was at her church that would report this!?!?! I understand the laws are in place for a reason - but this really pushes the limits!!!"

Comment 6: "it does push the limits. The article says she's looking for a roomate. Does that mean she has to be forced to live with anyone; a serial killer, a rapist, an atheist or a man? This law was meant for landlords and the artcile doesn't say whether she's the landlord or not. This is a frivolous lawsuit and a waste of taxpayer dollars...shameful. A person could ask for a gay roomate or an atheist roomate and no-one would complain due to political correcteness. Like I said, the last acceptable predjudice is against Christians."

Comment 6 reveals a troubled mind, someone who sees soldiers forcing people to act against their choices. The person also claims that a double standard exists: "A person could ask for a gay roomate or an atheist roommate and no-one would complain." I don't know if this claim is (f)actually true, but neither does the person making the claim--that subjunctive "would" tells us the person is speculating.

However, the really intriguing item is that prejudice against Christians is "the last acceptable" prejudice.

Really?

Is anyone asking Christians to live in ghettos or internment camps? Is anyone telling Christians that they can't eat in particular restaurants, attend particular schools, or sit in designated areas of buses? Are Christians being bullied to the point of suicide? Are Christians likely to encounter career ceilings and lower pay than their non-Christian colleagues? Are Christians being forced to wear badges or to adhere to special curfews? Are Christians prey to mobs willing to commit unrestrained violence against them? Are they being fed to lions? Are they being nailed to pieces of wood?

I find this persecution complex unfounded and abhorrent. I find designating this prejudice as "the last" completely egocentric.

2 comments:

  1. I notice that Comment 6’s list of undesirables goes, “a serial killer, a rapist, an atheist.” Isn’t that great?

    I would think that roommates should be different than tenants. Refusing to be roommates with someone because of race is racist, but I don’t think that forcing a racist person to live with someone he’s prejudiced against is really a good idea. Studies have shown that it takes more than just exposure to someone of another race to change racist attitudes.

    I don’t think Christians would have this problem, but for an Orthodox Jew I could see real (religious) difficulties in living with someone who isn’t an Orthodox Jew. These same difficulties just don’t exist with a tenant.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wrote a piece on this exact issue today - it's a manifestation of privilege, plain and simple.

    You might enjoy this too.

    ReplyDelete

Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.