Alliance Defending Freedom Given Chance To Be Widow’s Might In Minnesota

Most Christians are familiar with the story of the widow, told in Mark 12, whom Jesus commended to His disciples for her faithfulness in giving all she had to God. Not everyone, it turns out, finds the faith of widows so inspiring. Just ask the owners of the Osborne Apartments in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota.

Ruth Sweats is a resident of that senior living complex in the Minneapolis area. Not long ago, she met quietly with one of her neighbors in the commons area of the complex to read the Bible, pray, and share a private conversation about her faith. Soon, a social worker employed at the property saw what she was doing, came over, and told her she would have to stop.

The social worker said that Osborne Apartments receives tax-payer support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development – and, as a government agency, cannot allow its residents to have religious discussions in a public area. Somehow the First Amendment, the social worker seemed convinced, does not apply in government-funded facilities.

Alliance Defending Freedom knows better, and on October 19 our attorneys sent a letter to Ebenezer Corporation of Minneapolis, the manager of the apartments, clarifying things.

“The Establishment Clause is a restriction on government, not on private speakers,” the letter explains. “Because Osborne Apartments is a private, non-profit corporation – not a government controlled entity – it is not bound by the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on the government endorsement of religion. Osborne Apartments is free to allow the residents to engage in religious discussion and prayer.”

What’s more, the letter said, “HUD does not prohibit discussion about religion in the facilities to which it provides funding.” Indeed, federal court precedent has established that “simply because the government provides a benefit with public funds does not mean that all ‘mention of religion or prayers’ must be whitewashed from the use of the benefit.”

The letter then informed the managers that their actions might well violate federal and state anti-discrimination laws, adding that “The right thing to do out of respect for the senior citizens – many of whom fought or saw their spouses fight in wars to defend our nation and the freedoms upon which it is built – is to remove the ban on religious expression in the commons area.”

“Government funding should not be misused to ban a widow’s prayers,” says Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “The private decision of senior citizens to discuss their faith, read the Bible, and pray is private speech, and no law requires this privately owned independent living facility to restrict … religious expression.”

All over the country, people like Ms. Sweats are finding their faith under legal attack and intimidation, sometimes from hostile adversaries, sometimes from people who simply do not understand the law. Please join me in praying for our attorneys as they work diligently to defend the religious freedoms of all Americans – including you and your family.

Author: Alan Sears