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Officials Say No Discrimination In Seeking 'Christian Roommate'

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Cami Reister
The Grand Rapids Press/Religion News Service

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) A Michigan woman did not violate fair housing law when she posted a flier at her church seeking a "Christian roommate," federal officials have ruled.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. But officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights saw more than one constitutional issue.

"When it comes to a federal law, the individual's constitutional rights trump all," HUD spokeswoman Laura Feldman said. "That's the highest power."

The case started this summer when someone saw the ad at a local church and anonymously filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. That was sent to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, which handles investigations of fair housing complaints for HUD.

Maurice McGough, deputy regional director for fair housing and equal opportunity in HUD's Chicago office, said they were concerned about the individual's right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of intimate association, among other issues.

The fact that it was a roommate situation and that the woman posted her ad in a church -- as opposed to a general circulation newspaper, for example -- came into play, HUD officials said.

"We looked at those general protections and, without trying to draw too fine of a distinction between them, we erred on the side of the Constitution," McGough said. "This is the federal government. We have to be (careful) about how we enforce our authority."

Nancy L. Haynes, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, said HUD's determination was based on this specific case.

"It's unique and specific to this case," Haynes said. "It's not that there is some new exception to the law."

The woman, who has not been identified, was represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group in Scottsdale, Ariz., which sent a letter to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights asking for dismissal.

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