Evicting a widow’s prayers
Elderly widow told not to read her Bible or pray in senior housing complex common area

Christian Examiner staff report

MINNEAPOLIS — An elderly woman, living in public housing, has been told that she cannot read her Bible, pray or discuss her faith with other residents in the complex because it receives federal funding.

When Osborne Apartments resident, Ruth Sweats, in Spring Lake Park, Minn. tried to read the Bible, pray, and have a private conversation about faith with another resident in the commons area of the property, the property’s social worker told her to stop.

The social worker said that Osborne Apartments is a HUD building and that Sweats does not have rights protected by the First Amendment because HUD does not allow religious discussion to occur in the commons area.

Sweats contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group, for help.

ADF informed the Minneapolis-area senior living complex in a letter Friday that they were wrong in telling the senior or any other resident not to engage in private religious expression because it accepts government funds.

“Government funding should not be misused to ban a widow’s prayers,” said ADF 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 the religious expression of these members of America’s greatest generation.”

The letter also explained that “HUD does not prohibit discussion about religion in the facilities to which it provides funding” and that 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.”

ADF also suggested that the actions of Osborne Apartments, managed by Ebenezer Corporation of Minneapolis, may violate federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

“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…,” the letter stated. “We hope that this letter will clear up these issues and that you will do away with this terrible policy.”

Published, October 21, 2012

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