Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, welcomed yesterday’s decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding the rights of landlords of residential properties to choose not to rent apartments to unmarried couples because it is contrary to the landlords’ religious convictions.
The IPA had joined with other religious advocacy groups and filed a friend of the court brief in this case.
The landlords, Kevin Thomas and Gary & Joyce Baker chose not to rent to unmarried couples because they believe to do so is to facilitate the sin of fornication in violation of their religious beliefs.
Thus, they filed claims in federal court requesting prospective declaratory and injunctive relief against the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission’s enforcement of Alaska statutes that prohibit a landlord from discriminating upon the basis of marital status.
The landlords claimed that these statutes infringed upon their rights guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause and Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A federal district court ruled in favor of the landlords, the Court of
Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
The Orthodox Union’s IPA, Christian Legal Society, Mormon Church and National Association of Evangelicals asked the Court of Appeals through a friend of the court brief to reaffirm the concept of requiring a compelling governmental interest to restrict “hybrid rights” (i.e.: a case involving more than one constitutional right) and to recognize the rights of landlords to remain faithful to their religious convictions.
The Court of Appeals did just that, holding that Alaska’s regulations burdened multiple rights enjoyed by the landlords and that there was no compelling state interest sufficient to trump those rights.
IPA director Nathan Diament stated that “this is an important decision in the era after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was struck down because it is the beginning of rebuilding in the courts the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion without governmental interference.”