“When You Go To Tearing the Lights Off My Jesus … You Just Don’t Do That”

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Religion & Law

So says Daniel Long of Muncie, Indiana, who put a statue of Jesus outside the patio door to his apartment. Mr. Long placed a spot on the statue that casts His shadow on the apartment building, which apparently overlooks a polling place.

The manager of the complex asked him to remove the statue and, when Long refused, tried to remove it himself, causing a near altercation and the observation that titles this post.

What I find interesting is the manager’s claim that he is required to remove the statue because of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits any “notice, statement or advertisement that indicates a preference, limitation or discrimination based on religion” in the sale or rental of housing.

That argument seems to be a non-starter.

Long’s statue does not amount to a communication by the landlord “in the sale or rental of a dwelling.”

But what if one interprets the Act’s general prohibition against discrimination in the provision of housing to prohibit the creation of a religiously hostile environment? Does the landlord have a duty to prevent it?

And, if the law is interpreted in that way, is there a constitutional problem? Does a legal mandate to a private party to suppress speech infringe Long’s First Amendment rights? Because the statue would presumably require the suppression of religious, and not other forms of speech, would such an interpretation violate Long’s free exercise rights, even within the limits imposed by Employment Division v. Smith?

3 thoughts on ““When You Go To Tearing the Lights Off My Jesus … You Just Don’t Do That””

  1. I followed the link to the StarPress story; what is not clear to me is who owns the spot where the statue and spot-light were placed. If it is common area not rented or leased to Daniel Long, then why do the owners need a good reason to forbid the display on their own property or in common areas under their control? Their reference to the FHA may be superfluous. Whether it’s a non-starter or not may be moot. Perhaps the owners just don’t want to say that they really just don’t want the statue there, period.

    The story also implies that there are terms to the rental agreement that give control of these areas to the apartment management; if so then management does not need more than a consistent policy to forbid the display.

    Further, Daniel Long is reported to have said, “I’m not promoting any church or discriminating against any church, . . . This is just my own personal thing. . . . I think of Him 24 hours a day, I want to have Him with me 24 hours a day.” All valid enough to explain why he has the statue, but not to explain why he insists on such a prominent display of the statue.

    There is much about this situation I’m not getting.

  2. I assume that the patio is within his leasehold and I don’t know that there was any rental agreement prohibiting this like there was in the mezuzah case that I blogged on earlier.

    But what interested me is not so much whether Mr. Long should get to keep his Jesus but the implications of an argument from the Fair Housing Act.

  3. If we assume (ftsoa) that Mr. Long’s display was within his leasehold, then I’d agree that the FHA argument is a non-starter because non-Christians might want to put up their own religious displays (alters, etc) in their own leaseholds and denial of this right might amount to religious discrimination.

    I suspect (but only suspect) that non-Christians living in America are inured to the sight of Christian religious displays on residences.

Join the Conversation

We reserve the right not to publish comments based on such concerns as redundancy, incivility, untimeliness, poor writing, etc. All comments must include the first and last name of the author in the NAME field and a valid e-mail address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.