Do we have the right to choose who we live with?
It’s a valid question, now that the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan is attacking an unnamed woman for seeking a Christian roommate. The 31-year-old, who is single, posted the advertisement at her church last July.
“Christian roommate wanted,” she wrote, and included her contact information. Seems harmless enough, right? What churchgoer could possibly find such an ad to be offensive? And what government agency could possibly take such a complaint seriously?
The case is in the hands of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and the woman could be required to pay hefty fines and take what FHCWM Executive Director Nancy Haynes describes as “fair housing training.”
The FHCWM argues that the woman’s advertisement “expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths,” thereby violating Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. More commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act, it prohibits illegal housing discrimination, including discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, familial status, national origin, and disability status.
One of the problems with the FHCWM’s argument—and there are many—is that the Fair Housing Act does not negate the rights recognized by the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion. It is entirely natural for an unmarried Christian woman to want to live with someone who shares her beliefs about right and wrong, and making that preference known—on a church bulletin board, of all places—does not constitute discrimination.
Would it have been better for the woman to mislead would-be roommates into believing that they would be welcome regardless of religious affiliation? Of course not. She did the right thing by making her preference known, so that non-Christians wouldn’t waste their time. And, again, the advertisement was posted in a church, not a newspaper.
Clearly, the provisions of the Fair Housing Act are not aimed at people who are seeking roommates. Every individual has the right to choose who shares their living space, and no federal or state law can legitimately force them to “integrate,” a term which appears on the FHCWM’s website with unusual frequency.
This story brings with it an opportunity to debate the proper relationship between civil rights and property rights. Would-be tenants and roommates do not have a right to live on a certain property, but the owner of the property does have a natural right to decide that they may or may not, for any reason. Civil rights activists might cry foul at this point, arguing that housing discrimination is unfair, and they would be correct. Discrimination is unfair, and so is life, but government exists only to protect our God-given rights to life, liberty, and property—not to make life fair.
If the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has any sense, it will throw the case out, and issue a stern warning to the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan to stop wasting its time with agenda-based assaults on Christians, and get back to investigating real cases of illegal housing discrimination. Unless, of course, it wants to become involved in a costly, complicated court case.