OU APPLAUDS INTRODUCTION OF LEGISLATION TO PROTECT HOMEOWNERS’ RELIGIOUS RIGHTS

September 18, 2008

UNION OF ORTHODOX JEWISH CONGREGATIONS APPLAUDS INTRODUCTION OF LEGISLATION TO PROTECT HOMEOWNERS’ RELIGIOUS RIGHTS; BIPARTISAN BILL WILL ROLLBACK COURT DECISION ALLOWING MEZUZAHS AND OTHER RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS TO BE BANNED

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, applauded the introduction in the U.S. House of Representatives last night of the Freedom of Religious Expression in the Home Act (“FREHA”). The legislation will amend the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) to make clear that the FHA protects the freedom of Americans of faith to display religious symbols or objects on the exterior (or visible from the exterior) of their homes. This legislation is necessary because of a decision issued in July by the U.S. Court of Appeals (http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/GT0YAUG8.pdf) which held that the FHA does not protect the freedom for homeowners to display a religious symbol (in the Bloch case, a Mezuzah) preempted by a condominium or homeowners association rule against displaying objects on their doorways or home exteriors.

In the immediate aftermath of the court’s ruling in Bloch, the “Orthodox Union” reached out to key congressional lawmakers to legislatively reverse the Court of Appeals’ ruling. After careful work with those offices, and with support from other religious liberty advocates in the Jewish and other faith communities, the FREHA was introduced last night in the House by Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Trent Franks (R-AZ). A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate as well.

The FREHA is carefully crafted to protect the religious liberties of condominium, home and apartment owners and also other persons. It defines a rule which would ban the display of religious symbols or objects as unlawful, unless the rule is “reasonable and necessary to prevent significant damage to property, physical harm to persons, a public nuisance or similar undue hardship.”

Nathan J. Diament, director of public policy for the Union stated:

We applaud Reps. Nadler, Smith, Wexler and Franks for introducing this important religious liberty legislation. We were deeply disappointed by the federal court’s ruling in the Bloch case, but we are encouraged that these Members of Congress, and other friends of religious freedom, have responded so rapidly to our request to correct the court decision. We thought, like all Americans, that a person’s right to practice their faith, including the display of religious objects, in and on their home is clearly within their constitutional rights. In the wake of the court ruling, we must act to protect this aspect of religious freedom. We hope the House and Senate will act quickly to enact this bipartisan bill.