By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
If you have ever lived under the rule of a homeowners association, you know that rules and restrictions can sometimes be onerous. HOAs typically dictate what color you can paint your house and trim, how you can landscape your yard, where you can park your car, and even where you must store your trash can.
Although most HOA residents value an attractive neighborhood, sometimes rules governing appearance cross the line, restricting First Amendment rights, including freedom of religious expression.
For example, your HOA might prohibit or severely restrict your display of a cross or Mezuzah at the front entry to your home, religious holiday decorations, or lawn ornaments in your yard.
In Texas, legislation enacted in 2011 enables your HOA to limit display of religious objects to the front door frame, not to exceed 25 square inches in size. Furthermore, current Texas statute makes it legal for your HOA to remove any object of religious expression from your personal property, if it “contains language, graphics, or any display that is patently offensive to a passerby.”
Think about what that means. Anyone who does not share your religious faith may claim that your personal expression of faith, confined to your privately owned property, is “patently offensive,” thereby creating a reason for your HOA to deprive you of your personal property and your religious liberty.
State Rep Mike Schofield has recently filed House Bill 522, which seeks to amend Texas statute by removing the right of HOAs to restrict or remove any display of a religious item on private residential property.
I think Rep Schofield is taking the right approach – to protect and uphold the private property rights and religious liberties of homeowners and residents, he focuses on removing overreaching and unconstitutional powers of HOAs.
It’s really that simple.
Rep Schofield has released the following statement summarizing the purpose of HB 522:
Homeowner’s Religious Freedom Act (HB 522 by Schofield)
One of the most fundamental rights a person has is to worship God in accordance with their church’s beliefs and to proclaim the word of God. No government has the right to ban religious speech.
During the 2011 legislative session, Texas legislators were told that by passing HB 1278, they would be protecting homeowners from having their home owner’s association (HOA) order them to remove religious displays on their property. The bill appeared to limit HOAs ability to restrict religious displays.
In fact, the opposite was true. HOAs had no previous authority to make a homeowner take down a religious display — until HB 1278 gave it to them.
The bill starts out by saying “Except as otherwise provided by this section, a property owners’ association may not enforce . . .” a restrictive covenant allowing the removal of religious displays, then for the first time in Texas history, the bill goes on to create just such “exceptions.”
Under the bill, the HOA can force a homeowner to remove any religious display that is not affixed to the front door, such as crosses in your front yard. And even then, the homeowner cannot attach to the door anything using a material “that is not authorized” by the HOA. So, the HOA can ban even crosses on your front door simply by not approving any materials at all.
And it gets even worse. Even if the HOA does deign to allow certain materials for crosses or other religious displays, they can still be removed if any “passerby” (who might not even live in the subdivision) finds it “patently offensive.” It should come as no news that there are left-wing groups that find all religious displays “patently offensive.” Now they can travel to your neighborhood to tell you that you have to take yours down.
Then, the knockout punch: for the first time, the homeowner’s association was given authority to remove any item displayed in violation of the bill.
HB 522 — (Schofield) will protect homeowners from having Home Owners Associations remove religious displays from their property. The bill strikes the provisions limiting your right to religious displays to the front door, prohibiting the HOA from taking down any religious display on your property. The bill also gets rid of the provision allowing the HOA to effectively ban religious displays by having control of the allowable materials — or not allowing any at all. Finally, the bill only allows the removal of displays that are patently offensive “for reasons other than religious content.”
No one has a right to tell you that you cannot worship at your own home. Please spread the word to your association members today and ask them to support HB 522 and your right to religious liberty.
God Bless Texas,
State Representative, Katy & Cypress
No doubt that HOA industry lobbyists – regardless of party affiliation – will push to either keep the current restrictions or amend HB 522 to add restrictions on size or placement of religious items, citing the CC&Rs “contract” signed by homeowners when they purchased their homes.
Never mind that the people behind the original restrictions broke many HOA contracts by pushing for the restrictions in the first place, overriding the silence of CC&Rs on this issue.
If you live in Texas, and support this bill, contact your state Representative. I am told HB 522 will be discussed at a hearing on March 6.