Driveway Painting Tests Religious Freedom

Posted on December 8, 2008 In Blog

The Washington Post reports – A Loudoun County, [Virginia] man was in big trouble over his driveway. And every day it was costing him $10 in fines.

Ram Balasubramanian had painted a Hindu religious symbol on his South Riding driveway for a family event. The six-foot design of swirling red and white paint was pretty enough, but his homeowners association was not impressed. They sent a stern certified letter ordering him to remove it and “return the asphalt to a black state.”

Balasubramanian can’t bear the idea of blacking out the kolam, he says, because it is a religious expression welcoming the Hindu goddess of prosperity and other guests into the home. For every day that he refused to remove it, the association charged Balasubramanian $10, which has now accrued to the maximum $900 fine. The association says it won’t consider waiving the fine until the kolam is gone. Balasubramanian is not sure he has the strength — or the money — to keep fighting.

“If I have to remove it, it’s going to be with a lot of pain,” said Balasubramanian, 47. “Because of the emotional values I have for it. Whenever we have something auspicious in the house, we do not destroy it or apply black paint to it. Call it psychological or emotional. That’s not something we could do in our value system.”

To read this article in its entirety, please click here.

Very much similar to the Mezzuzah case in Illinois, decided this past July, in which a Jewish family filed suit against their Condominium Association for continually removing their Mezzuzah citing it as a vilation of Condo Association rules, Mr. Balasubramanian’s religious freedom to paint a kolam on his driveway would be covered under the proposed language of the Freedom of Religious Expression in the Home Act (“FREHA”).

This legislation, authored at the time of the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals against this Jewish family, is intended to amend the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) to make clear that the FHA protects the freedom of Americans of faith to display religious symbols or objects on the exterior (or visible from the exterior) of their homes. In the Jewish family’s case this was an exterior Mezzuzah on their condominium doorpost, for the Balasubramanian family it was the painting of the kolam on their driveway. Whichever the circumstances, the religious freedoms of those like the Balasubramanians need to be protected.