By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The holiday season would not be complete without another dispute over holiday decorations, especially display of religious symbols.
CBS New Channel 8 reports that Ranch Maintenance Agreement (RMA) Association in Oceanside, through its management company, STOS Partners, cited Pastor Openshaw for placement of a Nativity Scene on association property, apparently in violation of restrictions. Before the Pastor could resolve the matter with Ranch Maintenance, someone from the HOA tossed the Nativity scene display behind the retaining wall of the church’s monument.
However, at the Pastor’s request, the City of Oceanside has provided an official property map that clearly shows the Christmas decoration was placed on Church property, not HOA property.
In the video report, you will also notice that the retaining wall on the Church’s monument has sustained significant damage. According to the report, a driver of an uninsured vehicle caused the damage after it collided with the retaining wall.
The association apparently provides some maintenance services in easement zones, including the area along the road near the Lighthouse entry sign.
When Pastor Openshaw approached RMA to find out who is responsible for repairing recent damage to the retaining wall, it was explained to him that, since the monument is located on the property of Lighthouse Christian Church, the church is responsible for making and paying for repairs.
On one hand, the association insists that the crumbling retaining wall is on private property, and thus, repairs are a private responsibility. And, on the other hand, the association also insists that land directly in front of the wall is on community property. Therefore, the association feels entitled to restrict any holiday displays in the location, perhaps because someone on the corporate association board doesn’t like religious Christmas decorations.
But even if a maintenance easement exists for the area in question, does RMA or its management agent have the right to destroy the church’s private property? Should an owners’ association even have a right to remove a religious display from private property?
Oceanside church, property management battle over Nativity scene
Posted: Dec 04, 2017 9:48 PM EST
Updated: Dec 05, 2017 11:46 AM EST
By CBS News 8 Team
OCEANSIDE (NEWS 8) – An Oceanside church and its parishioners are fighting for their right to have a street-side Nativity scene displayed on what it claims is its own property.
The Lighthouse Christian Church is disputing with the Ranch Maintenance Agreement Board over who controls the property where the Nativity scene was placed.
The uproar started after RMA managers removed and trashed the Nativity scene, claiming it was unlawfully displayed on their property.
“[We] found the nativity scene in a heap behind the monument all jumbled. Mary’s head is missing. It’s hard to understand why the association would prefer this ugly gash in the wall to a beautiful display of the Nativity,” said Lighthouse Christian Church pastor, Mike Openshaw.
Five weeks ago, an uninsured pickup truck crashed into the church’s concrete sign. The Lighthouse Church was told they had to repair it.
“If it’s their property they can repair the sign. If it’s our property then we can display the Nativity so they can’t have it both ways,” said Pastor Openshaw.
Read more (Video):
The story has also been covered by KGTV, ABC News 10.
NATIVITY SCENE REMOVED, DAMAGED OUTSIDE OCEANSIDE CHURCH
11:19 AM, Dec 4, 2017
11:19 AM, Dec 4, 2017
OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KGTV) – A nativity scene outside a church in Oceanside was removed and damaged on Friday, according to Pastor Mike Openshaw.
The nativity scene had been placed on a concrete wall on the edge of the church property, covering damage from a crash several weeks before.
Read more (Video):
In a follow-up report, News 10 reports that management company STOS Partners is ending its contract with Ranch Management Association (the HOA) as of the end of this year.
According to the report, STOS Partners denies any role in physically removing the church’s Nativity scene. That implies that someone from the HOA took it upon themselves to curtail the civil liberties of one of its members, and to destroy private property in the process.
OCEANSIDE CHURCH CONSIDERS LEGAL ACTION OVER REMOVED NATIVITY SCENE
5:38 PM, Dec 5, 2017
6:27 PM, Dec 5, 2017
OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KGTV) – An Oceanside church could take legal action to reinstall the Nativity scene removed by their homeowners’ association, Ranch Maintenance Agreement. A cutout of Joseph and Mary was tossed over a concrete sign for the Lighthouse Christian Church.
“We’re disappointed that our own association to whom we pay dues would act like this and then hide behind anonymity and not talk with us,” said Pastor Mike Openshaw. “No rules were furnished to us, just a demand to take it down ‘or else we’ll take it down for you.’”
Pastor Openshaw said the got an email last week asking the church to remove the Nativity. RMA argued it was on its property. Openshaw questioned that because the Nativity sat on a concrete wall that was damaged in a car accident. RMA said that wall was Church property when it asked RMA to fix the damaged wall.
“There’s no question the monument and the Nativity Scene were well within our property line,” said Openshaw.
In the meantime, Stos Partners, the property management company representing Ranch Maintenance Agreement said Stos Partners played no part in removing the Nativity. It also told 10News it gave RMA a 30-day notice on Monday it was ending its contract as RMA’s property manager. The Stos Partners statement did not explain why.
Read more (Video):
How much power should HOAs have?
Media coverage of this dispute over display of a Nativity scene raises some larger, more fundamental questions:
Under what circumstances, if any, should a common interest community association have the power and authority to restrict religious freedom of expression or any other U.S. Constitutional rights?
Should it make any difference whether freedom of expression takes place on privately owned property or communal property?
Can communal property be accurately classified as “private” property of the HOA? Would it not be more accurate to describe communal property as limited access public property? Therefore, should the association really be entitled to more rights over the property than the individual?
What if commercial use of property is a religious institution such as a church? It seems reasonable to expect display of religious faith from a church. Should a corporate owners association be permitted by law to enforce restrictive covenants against display of religious statues or objects?
What about limited common elements in an association governed residential community, particularly a condominium association? Should an association have to right to restrict resident rights to enjoy civil liberties in exclusive use areas such as patios, front porches, and driveways?
Until Americans agree on the answers to these questions, we can expect to see more community discord and legal battles over holiday decorations.