Widow Ordered Not to Discuss God or Pray at Government-Funded Housing Complex

A widow in Minnesota was recently informed that she could not engage in religious discussion in the commons area of the apartment complex at which she resides.

Ruth Sweats, an elderly woman that lives at Osborne Apartments in Spring Lake Park near Minneapolis, says that she was engaged in a private discussion with another resident in the commons when she was approached by social worker Rachelle Henkle. Henkle told Sweats that because the apartment complex was funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she was not allowed to speak about religious matters in the public areas of the property.

However, not only was Sweats told that she could not engage in faith-based discussion, but Henkle stated that she could not pray or read her Bible in the commons either.

Therefore, Sweats contacted the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to express her concerns about the matter. Last Friday, ADF sent a letter to Osborne Apartments to demand that they cease and desist their restrictions on religious freedom.

“Because of this policy banning religious speech, Mrs. Sweats is concerned she will be punished or even evicted from the apartments for engaging in private religious speech,” the letter outlined. “It is our opinion that Osborne Apartments’ belief that it is required to suppress religious speech as a condition of its government funding is incorrect and unwise.”

“The Establishment Clause is a restriction on government, not on private speakers,” the correspondence continued. “Because Osborne Apartments is a private, non-profit corporation — not a government controlled entity — it is not bound by the Establishment Clause’s prohibition of government endorsement of religion. Furthermore, HUD does not prohibit discussion about religion in the facilities to which it provides funding.”

“Government funding should not be misused to ban a widow’s prayers,” commented Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matt Sharp about the matter. “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.”

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Osborne Apartments has until October 26th to respond to the demand letter.


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