Trump Administration Investigates Ban on Christmas Displays at HUD-Subsidized Complex

December 24, 2019 Updated: December 24, 2019

The Trump administration is investigating a Missouri management company’s ban on Christmas lights and displays at a 55-and-older housing development.

Liberty Counsel, a non-profit religious-rights organization, said in a press release that officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have launched a probe into Maco Management Company’s ban that prohibits residents at Grandview Estates, a HUD-subsidized residential complex, from decorating the exterior of their duplexes with Christmas lights and yard decorations.

Residents at the complex received a letter from Maco on Nov. 12 informing them that they could only decorate the inside of their homes but “nothing” outside, including their porches, saying that the decorations would violate the government fair housing rules as the complex was funded, in part, by government funds, according to Liberty Counsel.

The organization, who is representing the residents, wrote a letter (pdf) to Maco demanding that they reverse their Christmas decor ban as it violates the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

The organization also argued that any federal law that prohibits religious decoration is made in contravention of the First Amendment’s freedom to exercise religion clause.

They also cited a now-archived HUD policy that states: “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to strongly support and respect the display of all religious symbols on properties receiving HUD assistance.” HUD did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request to clarify their position on religious symbols on HUD-subsidized properties.

The regional manager of Maco Management responded to the letter (pdf) the next day, according to Liberty Counsel, citing their own company “Rules and Regulations” stipulated in the lease agreement as to the reason for banning Christmas decorations outdoors while failing to identify which Government Fair Housing regulation had supported the Christmas decor ban.

“We have never in the past or will in the future hamper a resident from decorating to their desire on the inside of their residence as they choose,” the regional manager wrote. “We do however have rules and regulations for the outside and the structures themselves.”

Liberty Counsel then responded to Maco in another letter arguing that the lease agreement did not prohibit temporary Christmas lights while noting that Grandview Estates management had allowed Christmas lights and seasonal yard decorations in previous years.

The letter also noted that Maco’s ban had also prohibited residents from putting up wreaths outside their doors but had allowed the estate manager to hold a “Holiday Wreath contest.”

Maco subsequently, according to the organization, sent a formal notice (pdf) to the senior residents stating that they had not “banned” Christmas decorations. The notice stated that residents may decorate the interior of their homes as well as “their front door and porch area with more overtly religious displays,” which Liberty Counsel pointed out was a change of position. It also added that all decorations in the yard must be “neutral” so “no religion is offended or singled out.”

“We as a management company look for a policy which appropriately balanced the beliefs of all while ensuring we are not perceived to favor one religion over another,” Maco stated, adding that the wreath decorating activity would have included all residents and allowed them to participate with their religious beliefs as they see fit.

In their press release, Liberty Counsel said Maco’s position “conflates the private speech of residents with the speech of the management company.”

Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel chairman, said he welcomed the HUD’s decision to investigate the alleged discriminatory practices.

“MACO’s banning Grandview Estates residents from their longstanding traditions of displaying Christmas or other religious holiday decorations constitutes discrimination based on religion,” Staver said in a statement. “Nothing in Federal regulations, the lease agreement or residential regulations supports such a ban. MACO Management Company must allow residents to decorate their duplexes, just like they have in the past.”

Maco did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request to comment.

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