Michigan town will sell houses only to good churchgoing Christians

The Guardian recently had a piece on the extraordinary town of Bay View, Michigan, which is located here:

It’s a lovely, leafy town, full of big and expensive houses that look like this:

The bizarre aspect of this town, unique in America so far as I know, is that only Christians who have a certificate of piety and regular churchgoing habits can buy homes there. And they can’t pass on their homes to anyone who’s not a Christian.

Bay View was originally a “Chautaqua town,” a place where a religious community would hold summer activities, camps, courses for adults, and so on. With the influx of people from other faiths to the US in the late 1940s (especially Jews), they introduced a regulation in 1947 banning the sale of homes to non-Christians and nonwhites (the nonwhite clause was later dropped). The non-Christian exclusion was strengthened in 1986. To qualify for buying a home, you have to give evidence of your piety by “providing among other things a letter from a Christian minister testifying to their active participation in a church.” Catholics were once excluded too, but now apparently qualify as Christians (!).

Further, if you own a home but are married to (horrors!) a Jew, you can’t pass on the house after death to your Jewish spouse, nor even to your kids, who are deemed to be of mixed faith. One homeowner in that situation reports his frustration in the article.

Now, however, a group of current and former Bay View homeowners are suing the community in federal court, claiming (correctly) that the restrictive sales policy violates the First Amendment, the federal Fair Housing Act, and other laws, all by discriminating against those of certain faiths. You can see the lawsuit at the first link below. The Guardian reports:

The lawsuit charges that Bay View Association, although private (some private entities including gentlemen’s clubs or the Boy Scouts, for example, historically have been able to discriminate), acts in effect as a governmental entity, endowed with the powers to police and enforce laws.

As such, the lawsuit claims, it is engaging in religious discrimination in violation of the US and Michigan constitutions, Michigan’s civil rights act and the Fair Housing Act.

Mike Steinberg, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, believes the lawsuit is an “open-and-shut case”.

“This is pure discrimination by a governmental entity. Bay View is clearly one and governmental entities cannot favor one religion over another, or religion over no religion.”

The federal lawsuit is only in its first steps, though, having failed in mediation at the end of January. And under the Trump presidency, with a rightwing-dominated supreme court sympathetic to religious arguments, times feel uncertain.

Well, this is not like refusing to make wedding cakes for gay marriages, which apparently was legally justified as a form of artistic expression that could not be forced. This is not artistic expression; it’s refusal to do business with somebody who’s not Christian, and it’s illegal. It is indeed an open and shut case, and I can’t believe that even under the religious-coddling Trump administration, the courts—even the Supreme Court—could somehow find a way to justify this discrimination. It cannot and will not stand.

As for those benighted residents who still defend Bay View’s policy, their response is basically twofold: you can convert to being a Christian, or if you don’t like the town’s policy, you can alway buy a home somewhere else. They justify the conversion thing by saying that it’s possible for anyone, in contrast to blacks, who can’t change their ethnicity.

Stay tuned.

60 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. rickflick
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    As a once-resident of that noble state, I am not surprised. The small village I was from was very Christian and very insular. As a boy-skeptic I felt like a weirdo until I left for greener pastures.

  3. Teresa Carson
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    The Bay View regulations are shockingly un-Christian.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      The Bay View regulations are typically Christian.

  4. BJ
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    My biggest question is how this lawsuit took so long.

    • Harrison
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Probably comes down to indifference. A lot of people just aren’t clamoring to move into the creepy cult neighborhood, nevermind the bogus restrictions. It seems it’s only happening now because circumstances have managed to inconvenience some of the people who already live there.

      • BJ
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        Ha, I’m sure you’re right.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Is this what is meant when they say, the neighborhood has gone to hell.

  6. DrBrydon
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I think that there is already law that HOAs can’t discriminate on the basis of race, so this seems like a non-starter. My question is, if I were to pass their checks, move there, and stop being a Christian, would they try to put a lien on my house? Maybe they should rename the town Stepford?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I read the article a while ago – and wasn’t in the least surprised. They do mention having some sort of action in the event of someone apostasizing, though I recall it using American legal terms that I just don’t grok.
      The article also covered a case – possibly one of the lawsuit cases – of a Bay View resident and Xtian who married a Jewess, and therefore whose children were being brought up as Jews (culturally or religiously, it wasn’t clear) ; clearly they would not be allowed to inherit. And there was something in the deeds and covenants to the property that would force a sale. But it was all American terminology, which I didn’t understand.
      It is extremely murky, and totally insane. The lawsuit certainly ought to succeed and break these regulations, but that’s no guarantee that it will succeed. If all else fails, the standard technique of dragging it out until the litigants die and everyone is bankrupt (apart from the lawyers) could well be deployed. What’s the classic? “Jarndyce & Jarndyce” in one of Dickens’ books … which was based (probably) on a real case starting in 1798 and winding up in 1915 when the money ran out.

  7. glen1davidson
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    There goes the last of the 1950s.

    Glen Davidson

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Where do you think it is that those who want to “Make America Great Again” wish to take us back to? They have an idealized fantasy of that time that never was (especially for those who were not white male Christians newly arrived in the Levittown suburbs).

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Where do you think it is that those who want to “Make America Great Again” wish to take us back to?

        About 1860? Just before the USian Civil War. When me were real men, women were in their place, and no-one could stop you from whipping a lippy slave to death after selling his wife and children “down the river”.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          I’ll think about that one tomorrow at Tara.

          • GBJames
            Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            Near Jonesboro, GA? I had an ancestor on the Union side that was killed in that battle. (It sealed the fate of the confederates at Atlanta.)

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    … this is not like refusing to make wedding cakes for gay marriages, which apparently was legally justified as a form of artistic expression that could not be forced.

    That issue is yet to be decided. SCOTUS heard oral arguments on it last December, and a decision is expected sometime this term (based on the Court’s track record in controversial cases, probably in late June or early July before it recesses for the summer).

    The housing practice in this case appears so clearly to violate the letter of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, I’m hard-pressed to see how a lawyer could defend it in good faith.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Let me add that I do not think the two cases — cake-baker and homeowner — are distinguishable. Why is the homophobic baker’s right to “artistic expression” any stronger than the home-owning Christian bigots’ “right of private association”? And both practices are plainly prohibited by statute as well as by the US constitution.

      • Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        From the lay person POV it sure looks like these christian nutters don’t stand a chance – you’d be hard put to find anything more blatant. But isn’t the bakery case a bit more murky? If you’ve the time would you clarify this a bit?

        IIANM the decision in bakery case hinged on the court’s finding that since the baker hadn’t yet made the cake it fell under some artistic exception to the anti-discrimination laws. I think in the court’s ruling they specifically said that the ruling did not apply to anyone trying to sell something already made – so the baker could not refuse to sell a cake in their display case. Am I reading that right? If so, doesn’t that make the cases substantially different?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          I haven’t gotten down into the fine filigree of the housing case (yet, anyway), but in both cases I think the plaintiffs are claiming they are exempt from anti-discrimination statutes based on rights secured them by the First Amendment — the freedom of expression, as to the baker; the freedom of association (and probably the free exercise of religion), as to the home-owners.

          There may be distinctions to be had as to the interpretation of the applicable statutes, but the crucial constitutional arguments appear to be the same.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I’m hard-pressed to see how a lawyer could defend it in good faith.

      $ $ $ $ $

    • Gordon
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Because lawyers act for and present the best available arguments for their clients. Generalised good faith has nothing to do with it. It’s the judges job to ensure the appropriate legal outcome.

      • Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        +1 This is the right answer. IMO, it is the mark of a good lawyer who is willing to defend an indefensible position.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          If there’s anyone who’s defended people the public has viewed as indefensible, it’s me. (I know that’s wrong grammatically, but fuggit.) There is a yooge difference, however, between taking on unpopular cases and asserting legal positions the lawyer knows to be unsupportable as a matter of law (or by a good-faith argument for a change in the law). A lawyer is prohibited (rightly, I believe) from doing the latter.

          • Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, Ken. You’re right, of course.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (by signing a pleading a lawyer certifies, subject to the imposition of sanctions, that the claim is made in good faith and “warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law”); see also ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.1 (“A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding … unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous{and} which includes a good faith argument …”).

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Let me clarify: I’m saying I don’t see a good-faith basis for claiming the case isn’t covered by the Fair Housing Act. I’m not suggesting that the lawyer be sanctioned (I’m hardly familiar enough with the case to venture such an opinion), and the lawyer may have a good-faith (though I doubt winning) argument that the Fair Housing Act is unconstitutional under some extension or reversal of First Amendment doctrine.

        • Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          What happens if someone is in violation of this? Does the bar association have to get them, or can a court charge them, or what?

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 15, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            The court can impose sanctions. The aggrieved lawyer has due process rights, of course — notice, hearing, appeal, the works. The court can also refer the matter to The Bar for potential disciplinary proceedings.

  9. Pablo
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    My husband is an Episcopal priest. Think they would sell us a house?

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      They would probably say that if he’s a man married to a man, he’s not a true Christian.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Specifically, they require an affadavit of some sort from a “pastor” of an “established church” about the potential purchaser’s long-term active membership and attendance at a church they find acceptable.
        None of those terms defined (I hear the -kerching- of lawyer’s bill racking up), and all very amenable to hiding all sorts of levels of bigotry.

        • darrelle
          Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Not very well hidden. Seems pretty openly bigoted.

  10. busterggi
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    if believers are so eager to exist in a gated community why not commit suicide and join Heaven, the ultimate in gated communities?

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Regrettably, most Christians believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin that will land them straight in Hell.

  11. Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Fucking bizarre…

  12. Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I think the “cake baker’s artistic expression” is worth a second thought. Imagine an artist asked to paint something that they find disgusting. (This works best if we imagine something we would find disgusting, such as cat torture.) They would simply turn down the commission. Nothing wrong with that, right?

    If the baker is only being asked to add some writing to the top of the cake, text provided by the customer, then there’s not much artistic expression. On the other hand, if the cake baker is being asked to create a design with only the theme provided by the customer, then it really becomes something different.

    As I understand it, the case before the Supremes is of the “add some writing” variety and should be ruled in favor of the gay couple. I’m just saying that all cases are not so clear cut.

  13. Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    ” you can convert to being a Christian,…They justify the conversion thing by saying that it’s possible for anyone”

    So if as an atheist, I agreed to convert in order to buy a house, they would be okay with that? I assume there is a time restriction, eg. convert and attend church for 3 months. If I then buy a house, and stop attending church, what happens then? I suspect that the ‘it’s possible for anyone’ is just to cover themselves legally.

    On the other hand, it is a clever way to control house prices. If you are in the situation where you can’t inherit the house from a relative, it’s a buyer’s market.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      ” you can convert to being a Christian,…They justify the conversion thing by saying that it’s possible for anyone”

      Actually, their requirement for some sort of affadavit from a pastor about your long-standing membership of and attendance at a church seems designed to prevent exactly your strategy.
      I would be astonished if such an affadavit hadn’t been purchased without any basis in fact ; whether such a purchase generated any documentary evidence … another money pit.
      On the third hand, there could be someone with signed letters, cheque stubs and a notarised contract with the “pastor”, just waiting to deliver the evidence to the lawyers out of long-nursed resentment.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted February 16, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Make a full price offer on a house there now. Get rejected as an atheist. Prices will be going up soon when town is forced to open up to all buyers. Sue the town then for the difference between your offer and the increased value that would have been yours if they had let you buy.

  14. John Dentinger
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Interesting community–reminds me of Kiryas Joel in New York State, and Ave Maria in Florida. There must be more in other states, too, I’ll bet: anyone know of others?

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      In my town, Long Beach, CA, we have an entire city block that a church (some say cult), Morningland Community of the Ascended Christ, has somewhat taken over. They own the whole commercial block facing a main drag and a lot of the residences behind it. From their website (http://morninglandcommunity.com/):

      “I saturate myself with the perfume of Thy presence, and I wait to waft with the breeze the aroma of Thy message of love to all.”

      Those that have left the cult have their own website: http://ex-morninglanders.com/. They have a good slogan:

      “Truth is What Remains When You Abandon Your Beliefs”

      • darrelle
        Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Holy Shit (pun intended). That slogan sounds like a parody out of an old Mad Magazine. These people have no sense of . . ., I was going to say irony, but really it’s much more than just irony that they have no sense of.

        • Liz
          Posted February 20, 2018 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

          I can’t think of anything more ironic.

    • Liz
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      I have found the Kiryas Joel people easier to talk to than some of the other religious people. I usually see them at the gas stations on the NY/NJ border but haven’t engaged in conversation about religion in years.

  15. dabertini
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I am confused. I thought Americans called these ghost towns.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    The courts have ruled that a volunteer community that is mainly about self-expression can exclude anyone they want, but a community that is in any way a commercial organization does not!!! As such, the Jaycees were forced to include women, but the Boy Scouts can still exclude gays.

    Now Bay View is an unincorporated resort community with residence limited to May through October and it is a census-designated place for statistical purposes, and still titled “Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church”.

    It seems to qualify as what is known as an “intentional community” like an ashram, kibbutz, or housing co-operative. I’m not sure if this is the legal equivalent of a homeowner’s association or not. However, they have a separate BayView Association which deal specifically with their real estate, so I suspect it does. Most homeowner’s associations are non-profit.

    Under “homeowner’s association”, Wikipedia reports (emphasis added) “Most homeowner associations are incorporated, and are subject to state statutes that govern non-profit corporations and homeowner associations. State oversight of homeowner associations is minimal, and it varies from state to state.”

    However, they actually have their own post office, so this seems to me to put them almost into the ball park of a government entity!!! Are their government requirements for having your own post office?

    Finally, their historic exclusion of Africans and their ability to employ an arbitrary definition of what constitutes a Christian are to me utterly odious.

    • Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this comment. Fills in some details.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      I wondered how they work that issue of Realtors and Real Estate. Does the Realtor have to be Christian as well? They wouldn’t want an Atheist Realtor now would they.

  17. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I am shocked—SHOCKED—that the Bay View Association now allows Catholics to qualify as Christians. On this slippery slope, they will next be allowing non-Christian books into private libraries in the community, and before you know it, their women will be wearing slacks, and their children will be reading comic books.

    • Doug
      Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      It could lead to dancing.

  18. Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I could probably scrape up an old baptismal certificate, but I make it a policy never to join any exclusionary organization that would have me as a member.

  19. RGT
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    If I only go to church on easter and christmas I could only qualify for a time share?

  20. loren russell
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    When the United Methodists are religious bigots, you know you’re in trouble. Here, they seem to try to out-Unitarian and out-Universalist the U-Us.

  21. Steve Pollard
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    If I was an American, I would be more than happy to leave those architectural monstrosities to Christians. They deserve nothing better. The pics look like Disneyland Paris (and you wouldn’t want to live there, believe me).

  22. Posted February 15, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Bay View is a remnant of the old campground meetings started by the descendants of the itinerant Methodist preachers. There are many and sometime in the Nd of th Victorian period they started building fancy homes., there is also a smaller settlement North of Harbor Spring and one on the south end . Bay View owns land and the houses are leased.
    Problem in the city of Peroskey and the township in which BatView ha many homes is one of taxation.
    The associati N sponsors many music activities, Methodists believe one should,sing with gusto.
    I don’t think they require an examination or a statement of faith, certainly easy to obtain a note from a clergyman.
    The novel,”middlesex” has some episodes which take place there
    Other communities up north are given tax breaks which makes some who live up here a bit distressed.

  23. Posted February 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    From another perspective, this could be considered a quarantine.

  24. Zetopan
    Posted February 18, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “They justify the conversion thing by saying that it’s possible for anyone, in contrast to blacks, who can’t change their ethnicity.”

    Yet they had previously excluded non-whites. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one to long notice that professional religious fanatics are so irony impaired that they think there isn’t any iron in their blood. I have routinely seen and heard them say amazing things that make it difficult to accept that they are actually conscious when making such irony meter destroying statements.


%d bloggers like this: