You Want A Kosher Roommate? You're Under Arrest
12/20/2010 - 11:48
Jonathan Mark

One of the great urban legends among Jews is that we, as a minority, will benefit from the civil rights of others and therefore Jews should be trusting of a liberal government with expanded powers, punishing disrimination with a merciless vigor. But what if those rights only protect the racial and sexual and not the religious?

Some say that Zionists and religious Christians may have support for Israel in common but we must part ways on domestic issues within the United States. 

That's not always the case. Sometimes the highest liberal values against discrimination are used to hound and proscute religious Jews or religious Christians who prefer to, say, advertise for a roommate who will keep kosher in a shared kitchen, or who would keep Shabbos, or who would conduct themselves with a sense of religious-social propriety, or sharing whatever Christian values and practices that might make a religious Christian more comfortable.

News Item: A  31-year-old nursing student in Michigan named Tricia, a religious Christian woman, placed a notice within her local church for a Christian roommate. Someone filed an anonymous complaint with the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. Tricia was then charged by Michigan's Department of Civil Rights with violating the Fair Housing Act.

By advertising for a Christian roommate, said the complaint, the advertiser was discriminating against people of other religions.

The young Christian woman was defended by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, who claimed that the Fair Housing Act can't intrude on the private choices of an individual within her own living space. 

A spokesmen for the state told World News Daily, a conservative and pro-Christian news site, that according to a regulation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Tricia of violating the legal provision against creating "any notice, statement or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference," including religious practice.

The defendant, added the WND, was forced to "provide information about her agent, the names and addresses of her management personnel, a copy of her anti-discrimination policy, addresses of her properties, tenants, witnesses and a copy of the advertisement."

The Grand Rapids Press reported a statement from the Alliance, "Christians shouldn't live in fear of being punished by the government for being Christians. It is completely absurd to try to penalize a single Christian woman for privately seeking a Christian roommate at church -- an obviously legal and constitutionally protected activity. Not content to just lock Christians and their beliefs into the four walls of their church or home, some groups also want to invade those walls and force their own ideas upon them by force of law."

In November, the government dropped the case, despite punishing the young woman with weeks of anguish and legal worries, let alone the legal costs, whoever picked up the bill.

Here's a question for Jews. Why was defending the Ground Zero mosque a national issue, a Jewish priority for more professional Jews than we'd care to count, with liberal rabbis lining up with imams and posing for the news cameras? Why is defending the rights of illegal aliens from Mexico a specifically Jewish concern for certain organizations? And yet the rights of a quiet innocent Christian student to advertise for a roommate, which directly impacts on thousands of young Jews seeking kosher and Shomer Shabbat roommates, seemingly of no concern to rabbis and other Jewish leaders at all?

What saved the day for young Jews sharing apartments, and what saves us from our own legal expenses of fighting this through the courts, was only the fact that the government first went after this Christian woman. The religious Christians, aside from Israel, are also our firewall against government intrusions against religion here in the United States.

We are safer and better protected by the Christians who want to put up a creche in the village square than by the secularists who want government to have power over religion, denying religious symbols even a public showing. The anti-religious forces in America aren't content to stop with harassing a creche or a public menorah. As in other countries, PETA-types will agitate to come after kosher meat butchers, and there'll be laws regarding circumcisions, and young religious people wanting like-minded roommates. Of course, we're a long way from the end-game in any of those cases, but it's fair time to figure out who's on our side and who isn't.

Would a gay person not be allowed to advertise for a gay roommate? Wouldn't that be discrimating against a straight person? If liberals understand the idea that government should not intrude into your bedroom, why is it so hard to understand why government should not intrude into your choice of a roommate?

Instead our government, which wants to legislate against children drinking soda and legislate dozens of other nanny state intrusions, is too comfortable with the idea of being a wise and kindly Big Brother, with informers snitching on what we put on our church or synagogue walls.

All in the name of civil rights, of course.

As George Carlin said, when Big Brother comes to the United States, he won't come with jackboots, he'll come with a smiley face. Hey, Tricia, we're here from Civil Rights! :)

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This was simply a misinterpretation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This act requires landlords (not private citizens seeking roommates) from stating a discriminatory housing preference. Gay people can seek gay roommates (though I've never met a gay person who had a strong preference in the matter). Christians can seeking Christian roommates, at church or elsewhere. Certainly Jews can seek roommates who keep kosher. But that doesn't mean we should ditch the whole Fair Housing Act.
First, no one wants to read WAR AND PEACE responses. If it takes more than 4 sentences to make your point, you don't really have one. I would rather be surrounded by 1000 Christians than 1 liberal Jew. The majority of us are the problem, and when they come for you my door will be closed to you. Marry out, please.
As is unfortunately too often the case, Jonathan's seeing things through his "liberals always bad" glasses results in a post that is is unfair and incorrect. 1. Jews benefittimg from the civil rights of others is an urban legend? Shomrei Shabbat Jews, for example, haven't benefitted from the civil rights act passed mainly to protect the rights of African-Americans? Being Jewish in public (e.g., wearing a yarmulke in court) hasn't grown exponentially with the care given to the rights of other minorities? You're old enough, Jonathan, to know better. Why don't you speak to the Jewish grandfathers you like to write about so movingly and ask them what it was like before America became concerned with the civil rights of others. 2. The case against Tricia was clearly a stupid decision and, as you note, the government dropped it. But one anecdote doesn't make an argument. Should this be a concern of Jews? Of course! And there are plenty of liberals who agree. 3. No one wants to deny religious symbols a "public" showing. Who has ever wanted to deny the putting up of a menorah or creche in a store window or someone's lawn, in a shul or church parking lot, in a mall, office building or arena? As far as I know, no one. What some of us don't like, and what we think the First Amendment prohibits, is governmental involvement in such displays -- putting up religious symbols in a courthouse or municipal building for example. You have a different view of the First Amendment? Fine, it's an issue that reasonable people can argue about. But you put words and ideas into people's mouth that exist only in your "liberals bad" mindset. 4. "If liberals understand the idea that government should not intrude into your bedroom, why is it so hard to understand why government should not intrude into your choice of a roommate?" I learned a long time ago that it's not a gtreat idea to ask rhetorical questions because maybe the answer is not so obvious. The answer to your question is that it's not so hard at all and liberals do, in fact, understand this concept well. And your proof to the contrary is, what: one foolish Michigan case? 5. One last thing. Read the Supreme Court cases dealing with the rights of Jews and other religious people; the Title VII case dealing with reasoable accomodation for Shabbat observers, the Goldman yarmulke case and others and see which Justices defended the rights of the Jewish people. I'll give you a hint; Brennan was among them.
How things get blown out of proportion! The advertising section of the fair housing amendments act of 1988 is very specific to avoid folks printing items like "no blacks" or "non-jewish neighborhood", etc. It goes even further, not allowing models in graphic ads being all white, etc. It sets a bad precedent. However, the fair housing act recognizes that house-sharing does allow for gender preference and generously makes that exemption so that a single woman is not forced to share her apartment with a male (or vice versa). So, before the country goes off on another tangent regarding the story you referenced, become educated on the beauty of the fair housing act and how much it has helped many obtain homes (and in turn, build nest eggs for future generations). The protections are not just race and religion ... if you have kids, or a disability, or come from another country, or are a woman, you are protected by the fair housing act ... it provides for free legal representation from the United States Attorney (or State Attorney) if the claims are substantiated. We have a long way to go ... to date, it is still better if the aggrieved party contacts a fair housing agency to advocate on their behalf as (with many civil rights programs), the program is greatly underfunded and many in positions of power lack the empathy and experience to understand a victim's claims (sometimes opening up wounds that they are there to help heal). But, please don't criticize a historic law that took the death of Dr. Martin Luther King to pass and is there to guarantee all the most fundamental right of a place to live.
Dear Sir; I am most closely described as a secularist. I htink you are incorrect in the above article. The informant more likley had an anti-religious, anti-Christian bias. Although I am not an attorney, I suspect that the law does not pertain to individuals looking for roomamtes but to businesses, landlords and corporations who seek to discriminate on some kind of basis --religion, gender, ethnicity. I suspect that the person who received the initial complaint was poorly trained and educated about the law. Additionally, the legal system, once informed with a complaint, ussualy has to expend some amount of investigation. Unfortunately, for us, even a small amount of investigation of our affairs by the state ( I am a CPA) is burdensome and to the individual can appear unfair. Why not focus on the other side of the coin? The Jews, Catholics and other religious leaders who opposed government-mandated prayer in school did so in an effort to protect the youngest members of their faith from state endorsed proselytization. Oh, some people take this too far? Oh, some people interpret events and laws extremely? Isn't that life including some people who interpret religious law extremely and stone adulterers?