Freedom of Religion and Speech in Public Housing

A recent report noted that services had been stopped for a Dallas church that was holding its meetings in a public housing unit. The local housing authority president had claimed that the services violated the separation of church and state.

A federal spokesman (with HUD) attempted to clarify the move:

He said the Fair Housing Act allows religious activity in common areas of public housing as long as it does not result in unequal treatment of residents.

A new story reports that services have since been allowed to resume. The law only restricts religious activity when it results in treating residents unequally. The local housing authority president has apologized.

Lost in all of this, however, are two points. First, what ever happened to the First-Amendment wording: “shall make no law” in terms of “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion or “abridging the freedom of speech”? And second, where is the federal government constitutionally authorized to subsidize housing (see the Tenth Amendment if in doubt)?

The controversy over “public housing” being host to religious services wouldn’t be a federal problem if government was limited to its constitutional scope. A lot of the legal conundrums we find ourselves in lately stem back to government being involved in too many activities not authorized by the Constitution.

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