Couple sues retirement community over Bible study eviction
A retired couple is suing the landlords of a senior living apartment complex who, they say, evicted them last year for hosting a Bible study.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Richmond accuses the management of The Evergreens at Smith Run, a retirement community in Fredericksburg, of discriminating against Kenneth Hauge, a retired Lutheran minister, and his wife, Liv Hauge, for hosting weekly Bible studies in the community room.
The Hauges faced pressure from fellow tenants to cease religious meetings and were banned by management from saying grace before meals, according to the lawsuit.
“The management company’s hostility to religious residents violates federal law and taints Virginia’s long history of religious freedom,” said Lea Patterson, an attorney for the religious liberty nonprofit First Liberty Institute who is representing the Hauges.
Last summer, Douglas Erdman, president of Community Realty Co., which owns The Evergreens, denied shutting down the Hauges’ Bible studies, The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported. Mr. Erdman said First Liberty was not “accurately portray the situation” in the lawsuit.
Community Realty Co. did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that the landlords violated the couple’s fair housing rights under Virginia and federal law. The Hauges’ Bible studies began in 2017 in a card room, and disputes between management and other residents erupted after the group reserved the community room.
According to the Hauges’ attorneys, a spat broke out over the use of “book review” to describe the Bible study on the facility’s calendar.
The retirement center barred religious and political activities from the community room as of last summer, according to a letter obtained by the plaintiffs and included in the court record.
“One of the challenges of managing a common area in a residential community like ours is balancing the different preferences of the many people of diverse interests who live here,” said the letter, sent on Sept. 5 by Evergreens management.
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