FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — A retired Lutheran minister and his wife who sued the owners and management of a Virginia apartment complex for threatening them with eviction following complaints over his regular Bible study and other allegations is now free to conduct religious activities as a settlement has now been reached in the lawsuit.
“An agreement reached with the property management company lifts the restriction on religious activities in the apartment complex’s common areas and withdraws the notice that threatened to evict FLI clients Kenneth and Liv Hauge,” First Liberty Institute (FLI) wrote on Friday in an update on the matter.
“This is a big victory for Ken and Liv, who were originally banned from hosting their Bible study in mid-2018. Moving forward, the couple, who are both in their 80’s, will be able to resume weekly Bible studies with their friends and neighbors,” it rejoiced.
As previously reported, Hauge and his wife moved into The Evergreens at Smith Run in Fredericksburg in January 2017 and shortly thereafter “received unsolicited requests from other residents to lead a non-denominational Bible Study for interested residents on Wednesday evenings.”
Around this same time, Community Manager Tanita Kearse reportedly instituted a policy prohibiting residents from audibly saying grace over their meals because she believed that many were opposed to the practice. Hauge says that he was also told that any flyers advertising the Bible study should rather be listed as a “book review.”
After a relative of one of the Bible study attendees contacted Property Manager Spencer Fried about her concerns, the matter was reversed. However, it wasn’t long until some residents began to take issue with the study, allegedly going off on “profane rants” at Hauge and other participants.
Hauge went to Kearse about the matter, but so did the complainants, claiming that Hauge was showing religious films in the community room on Sunday nights. Hauge states that the videos were documentaries and travelogues, and not religious presentations.
Another individual complained that Hauge was engaging in “pastoral counseling” in the card room, but Hauge states that he had an impromptu talk with a resident for about 15-20 minutes after the person asked for help, and then left.
Hauge soon received a “Notice to Cure Default or Quit” surrounding the allegations.
“Landlord has received a series of complaints over the last several months regarding your conduct at the community,” it read. “Specifically, landlord has learned that you have hosted Bible study classes in the club room and have recently opened up these Bible study classes to non-residents of the community.”
“Landlord has received complaints from other residents that when they attempt to use the club room while you are hosting a Bible study class, they are being ‘harassed’ and pressured to join the Bible study class, making them feel so uncomfortable that they leave the club room to avoid confrontation,” the notice claimed.
It also said that “multiple residents” had reported “that they feel uncomfortable using the club room due to the frequency of religious activities and the interactions with you and your guests (both residents and non-residents) when the complaining residents attempt to use the club room.”
The letter pointed to various rules about the community, such as that “conducting any kind of business” in the building is prohibited, and that tenants cannot disturb the “comfort” or “convenience” of others. It further provided a list of events that are acceptable at the Evergreens, such as birthday parties, wedding receptions, potluck dinners and social activities — none of which included Bible studies.
Under threat of eviction, the notice demanded that Hauge submit a request form and deposit in advance of any activity to allow for time to determine whether that event is permissible, but also advised that Bible studies and “religious” movie screenings will not be allowed, classifying them as business operations.
“[C]ease conducting any business operations in the apartment and the community (including, without limitation, the club room) other than expressly permitted under your lease. Bible study class, religious movie screenings and counselings sessions are not permitted ‘at home’ business operations, nor permitted activities in the club room,” it read.
Hauge, who denies the allegations, stopped offering any Bible studies as a result of the threat. In June 2018, he learned that a new policy had been instituted at the apartment complex stating that the community room could not be used for political or “religious services” or “other religious purposes” as it would be “inappropriate.”
He lodged a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and last year, Hauge’s attorneys also filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Virginia Fair Housing Law.
First Liberty announced the subsequent settlement on Friday, declaring it a victory.
“The settlement provides that the policy that prohibited any religious activities from occurring in the community room is rescinded so that means anyone, not just the Bible study, that wants to have an event has equal access regardless of the religious content,” Lea Patterson, an attorney with FLI, told Fox5 News.
“We’re just so excited for the Hauges and that everyone will be able to resume having Bible study,” she also commented to the Free Lance-Star. “We’re grateful to the Evergreens and to the management company for working with us to bring about this positive resolution.”
Hauge says that it was difficult to go without fellowship with like-minded believers while the case was underway. He finds “great relief” that the matter is now in the past.