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?