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Civil rights violation leads to death threats

6:52 PM, Oct 22, 2010   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - Death threats - that's what an employee at the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan is facing for filing civil rights violation against a Grand Rapids woman.

Tempers are rising after members of a Christian group revealed they're defending a woman, charged with violating the Fair Housing Act for advertising for a Christian roommate. The Department of Civil Rights identified the woman facing charges as Tricia Rowe.

The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan says it's illegal to advertise a religious preference.

But her attorney says freedom of religion is a constitutional right.

The complaint centers on a simple request on the church bulletin board- 'I'm looking for a Christian roommate.' That post led to charges of violating the Fair Housing Act, something Tricia Rowe's attorney is trying to overturn.

Joel Oster, Alliance Defense Fund says, "This is outrageous to think that the government can come into your private house and try and tell you who you can and cannot have as a roommate. It's just absurd."

Oster says Rowe is not a landlord, so the charges don't apply. Plus he says her right to practice her religion is protected.

"The constitution absolutely protects her right to freedom of association, freedom of speech and religion are all well protected here."

This debate is so heated, people are threatening the woman who filed the violation against Rowe.

"I think the threat didn't come from here."

Nancy Haynes is the Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. Her organization's investigators looked into the issue after getting an anonymous call.

"For us it's pretty straight forward. It's just there's a discriminatory advertisement that states an illegal preference so it's a violation of 804-C. "

Haynes says Rowe can live with whoever she wants, but law '804-C' is about what you publish. The law says you can't print, publish, or advertise based on race, limitation, sex, or religion.

"In practice she could meet with this woman, could talk about different things and the person could decide in the end they don't make good roommates."

As for Rowe not being a landlord, Haynes says, the law applies for any housing transaction -- including roommates.

The complaint against Rowe is now being reviewed by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. They would not comment because of the ongoing investigation.

By Sarah Barwacz

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