The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 25th favorable fair housing decision was a big win for the civil rights of all Americans, including Jewish condominium owners and renters who are prohibited from placing Mezuzahs on their outer door posts.
A mezuzah is a small, unobtrusive object – typically less than six inches long and an inch wide – which for millennia has been placed on the outer doorposts of Jewish homes in fulfillment of religious obligations. It is not a decorative choice for Jews, or a choice of any kind. Rather, an observant Jewish person cannot buy, rent or reside in a residence where placement of a mezuzah on the outer doorpost is prohibited.
Many condominiums, developments and rental communities are subject to generally applicable aesthetic or other restrictions which prohibit the display of all religious or secular symbols on outer doorposts and doors, including the mezuzah. In the vast majority of these situations, homeowner associations or landlords accommodate Jewish residents by allowing them to post their mezuzahs without issue.
However, in the minority of cases where associations or landlords refuse to allow the mezuzah, the Court’s decision is a valuable legal tool. In Texas Dept. of Housing v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., the Court recognized “disparate impact” theory under the federal Fair Housing Act. As a result, generally applicable housing rules or practices that have the effect of unintentionally discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin, including restrictions barring display of the mezuzah, violate the Act.
In light of the Court’s ruling, ADL has issued a new publication entitled, “Religious Accommodation for the Mezuzah: Your Rights Under Fair Housing Laws,” which in addition to discussing accommodations under federal law covers the four state laws (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois and Texas) that specifically prohibit rules barring displays of the mezuzah and other religious symbols in outer door areas.
Providing religious accommodations for the mezuzah is a principled and worthy practice. Now that the Court has ruled in favor of disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act, homeowner associations and landlords should be on notice that providing such accommodations is not only the right thing to do, but legally required in most instances.