Monday, September 22, 2014

Freedom to practice religion?

A Florida family is locked in an intense battle with a homeowners association over the demand that religious statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary be removed from their lawn.

Enock and Ines Berluche claim that the Shingle Creek Reserve at the Oaks Homeowners Association, Inc. threatened legal action if the family refused to remove the 2-foot statues, which were recently rejected by the governing body for not being “harmonious with the surrounding properties.”

In a letter sent to the family by Martell & Ozim, P.A., a law firm retained by the association, Enock and Ines Berluche were told that they are in violation of the community’s “covenants and restrictions.” The demand was made clear: “Remove your unapproved statues from the front of your home.”

“Accordingly, demand is hereby made for you to immediately remove your unapproved statues from the front of your home,” read the letter, dated July 30, 2014. “Your failure to do so within seven (7) days of this letter will result in legal action.”

It should be noted that the family apparently first put the statues up without getting the association’s permission. But when the couple learned that they had violated the rules, they reportedly filed the proper paperwork, but the statues were subsequently rejected.

“Please provide the Association in writing the stated religion, the religious significance of the statues, and why these statues cannot be relocated to a different location on the Lot or enclosed behind a fence out of street view,” the letter continued.

Rather than comply with these demands, the Berluche family reached out to the Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal firm, to seek representation and assistance.

In a letter addressed to attorneys for the association, Liberty Counsel defended the family and questioned whether the rejection of the lawn statues might be rooted in religious discrimination.



Anonymous said...

The family had agreed to the conditions of the association and then flouted them, and even refused to compromize.
"Freedom of religion" doesn't mean the freedom to do anything claiming it's a necessary part of the religion - which if anything is an abuse of religion (especially notable among Muslims).

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:33 -

Normally I would agree that when a person breaks an agreement, they have no leg to stand upon.

But this case seems a little different.

In the community, there are other statues that are larger. There are properties that have more statues than this couple looked to erect.

None of those properties appear to have gone through the approval process but are not being told to remove their statues.

In addition, the covenant and agreements of the HOA require the applications for a statue be approved by an architectural committee. The couple's application was disapproved by one person who was not a member of that committee.

Lastly, there has been a great outcry over services being denied to gay couples who want to have a cake designed, have a wedding at a venue, etc. Sexual orientation is a protected class under the law but so are religious beliefs. A business cannot deny services to someone based on religion.

The couple was asked their religion, what religion the statues represent, etc. Those questions are highly impermissible in any setting such as this.

I don't care if the HOA wants to allow statues. I don't care if they want to disallow statues. I don't care whether the couple thinks they should be able to break the covenant and agreements with some bogus first amendment claim. They agreed to the covenant; live with it.

But when an association breaks its own rules, allows some statues and not others and that ban is based on religion, there is a problem.

Bird of Paradise said...

The entire HOME OWNERS AGENCY agency needs to be moved out of america to a more approprate place like The European(Soviet)Union