A religious liberty group says a Catholic assisted living complex in Washington state has wrongly banned residents from saying “Merry Christmas” or displaying holiday decorations out of fear it will violate a federal law.
Providence Place in Chehalis, Wash., is an assisting living apartment for senior citizens and receives government funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The building manager, Katrina Newman, told residents they are forbidden from celebrating Christmas, according to Alliance Defending Freedom.
“As Christmas approached, Ms. Newman informed the residents that the Fair Housing Act prohibited residents from saying Merry Christmas, singing Christmas carols that reference Christ, or displaying any decorations referencing the Christian religion during the holiday season,” a letter from ADF to Providence Place states.
But Newman did permit a Menorah in the public space because “it was cultural expression,” the letter says. ADF is asking the facility to restore the religious rights of its residents. A resident contacted ADF after she was told she couldn’t say Merry Christmas or celebrate the holiday.
“Americans don’t lose their constitutionally protected freedom to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or otherwise express their faith just because they live in a facility that accepts government funds,” said ADF attorney Matt Sharp. “No HUD rule requires senior living centers that accept federal resources to deny their residents the ability to celebrate Christmas with religious songs and symbols.”
The ADF letter pointed to a HUD press release from 2007 stating: “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to strongly support and respect the display of all religious symbols on properties receiving HUD assistance. We discourage anyone from interfering in the free exercise of religion and prohibiting residents from celebrating the joys of the season.”
The apartment complex is owned and operated by Providence Health & Services, a nonprofit Catholic health care organization.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.