In Bayview, Michigan only those who practice Christianity can buy or inherit houses. Bylaws introduced in 1947 and 1986 dictate that prospective buyers must produce evidence of their faith when buying a home in Bayview, according to The Guardian. Prospective buyers must provide a letter from a Christian minister testifying that they participate in a church.
According to The Guardian, last summer many current and former residents filed a federal lawsuit against Bay View Association and a real estate company. The suit claims that the bylaws are illegal and unconstitutional.
Some of the town residents, such as Betty Stevens and her husband Glenn, a former Bay View Association board member, don’t think the rules should change. Betty adds that the town will happily accept non-Christian tenants and visitors, though.
“This place was founded with a purpose. People were coming to a camp meeting ground to participate in a Christian spiritual reawakening,” Glenn Stevens sad.
Jon Butler a Yale University historian of religion says that the rules are not entirely unprecedented. Many people live in homes that have restrictive rules in the deeds, but they are just not usually enforced. He says what’s surprising is “that the association being sued is defending itself.”
The 1940 bylaw was passed at a time of heightened anti-semitism in the U.S. as many Jewish refugees were being denied asylum in Europe, which many Americans supported. Jeremy Scheaffer, who has lived in Bay View for five generations, cannot now legally will his property to his Jewish wife or children. Although Scheaffer always knew that these rules existed, he never thought they would be upheld.
“Everyone knew about it. It was viewed as one of those arcane laws put on the books way back when. I think there was a sense that it would just take care of itself,” Schaeffer said.
Another resident, William Crawford, is a third-generation Bay View residents. He says he’s embarrassed by the membership policy. Crawford also claims that Bay View’s “dirty little secret” is that many members of the community do not actually practice Christianity. He says some people “like the idea of tradition” more than they care about their neighbors’ religion.
The Christian clause was introduced with a clause that said only white people could live in the community. The association got rid of the white-only clause the next decade.
The lawsuit claims that the Bay View Association, although private, acts as a governmental entity and is engaging in religious discrimination in violation of the U.S. constitution and the Michigan constitution as well as Michigan’s civil rights act and the Fair Housing Act.
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan legal director, Mike Steinberg, thinks this is an “open-and-shut case.” He says, “This is pure discrimination by a governmental entity. Bay View is clearly one and governmental entities cannot favor one religion over another, or religion over no religion.”
In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive covenants were unenforceable. Should religious restrictive covenant be interpreted differently?
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