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His Healing Hands Church v. Lansing Housing Commission

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 8, 2017

HIS HEALING HANDS CHURCH, Plaintiff,
v.
LANSING HOUSING COMMISSION, Defendant.

          OPINION REGARDING CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          GORDON J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, His Healing Hands Church, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant, the Lansing Housing Commission, alleging violations of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. The Church alleges that the Housing Commission violated the Church's rights by refusing its requests to use the Housing Commission's community rooms for its Sunday meetings. The Housing Commission denied the Church's request because the Church's programs violate the Housing Commission's policy against use of its community rooms for religious purposes. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the Court heard oral argument on January 17, 2017.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the Church's motion for summary judgment, deny the Housing Commission's motion for summary judgment, and enter a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the Housing Commission's policy prohibiting the Church from presenting its programs in Housing Commission facilities.

         I. Background

         The Church filed its complaint in this case on October 14, 2015, and, shortly thereafter, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The Court held a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction on January 19, 2016, and issued an Opinion and Order on February 1, 2016, granting the Church's motion. His Healing Hands Church v. Lansing Hous. Comm'n, 160 F.Supp.3d 1014 (W.D. Mich. 2016). The pertinent facts were set forth in the February 1, 2016, Opinion:

The Housing Commission is a public housing authority that provides subsidized housing to qualified individuals and families. (Dkt. #15-2 at Page ID#489, ¶2.) The Housing Commission operates several housing developments, each of which has a community room. (Id. at ¶ 3.) The Housing Commission controls access to the community rooms, and keeps them locked when they are not in use. (Id.) The Housing Commission allows residents to use the rooms for private parties and other events, and the Housing Commission staff uses the community room to conduct meetings and put on events for residents. (Id. at ¶¶4-5.) In addition, the Housing Commission allows outside groups to use the community rooms “so long as the purpose is to benefit the residents of the [Housing Commission] facility.” (Id. at ¶6.) The Housing Commission does not, however, allow outside groups to use the community room for “religious worship, services, or programs.” (Id. at ¶8.)
The Housing Commission has permitted outside groups to use its community rooms for a variety of activities aimed at benefitting residents. Outside groups have used the community rooms to provide activities for children, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts meetings, tutoring, and programs aimed at character-building and teaching of life principles. (Dkt. #22-1.) For example, a Lansing church sponsors a program called “Powerhouse, ” which uses the “Character First” program to teach character-building. (Dkt. #21-1.) The program omits faith-based teachings and biblical references. (Id.) Youth Haven sponsors a “Kids Klub, ” which “focus[es] on teaching life principles and building the children's self-esteem through lessons, games, activities, and crafts.” (Dkt. #20-1 at Page ID#554.) Similarly, the “Champions Club” has used the community rooms to teach children to “say no to negative peer pressure, to make the right choices and change their community for the better.” (Dkt. #20-1 at Page ID#558.) Groups also use the community rooms to provide educational programs for adult residents related to health, financial literacy, and drug abuse prevention. (Dkt. #15-2 at Page ID#490-91, ¶7.) Finally, some groups use the community rooms to provide free food and diapers to residents. (Id.)
Dr. Eleanor Kue, a medical doctor, is the pastor of the Church. (Dkt. #11-2 at Page ID#305, ¶3.) During the week, Dr. Kue operates His Healing [Hands] Medical Clinic, which provides medical services to an underserved community in Lansing. (Id. at ¶4.) On Sundays, Dr. Kue conducts “religious meetings, ” that serve the Housing Commission's residents. (Id. at ¶5.) Those meetings consist of Biblical teaching, including teaching related to morality, religious worship, and the provision of a meal. (Dkt. #11-2 at Page ID#306, ¶10.) The Church focuses on teaching children and their families “empowerment through Christ to turn away from the negative community cycles that face them, and to turn . . . toward a lifestyle that contains promise and Hope for the future.” (Dkt. #15-6 at Page ID#513.)
In late August and early September 2015, Dr. Kue asked the managers of two different complexes operated by the Housing Commission if she could use their community rooms for the Church's Sunday religious meetings. (Id. at ¶¶6, 9.) The manager for one complex told Dr. Kue that she could use the community room to feed residents, but that she could not “say anything about Jesus” or “bring any Bibles.” (Id. at ¶ 9.) A staff member at that complex later told Dr. Kue that the Church could not use the community room at all because it could not be used for religious activities. (Id.)
The managers of the housing complexes at issue have confirmed that they told Dr. Kue that “[the Housing Commission] does not grant access to the community room for religious purposes.” (Dkt. #15-3 at Page ID#496, ¶8; dkt. #15-4 at Page ID#499, ¶7.) The managers stated that Dr. Kue could use the community rooms “if the purpose of the access is for the secular benefit of the housing facility's residents, ” but that “[the Housing Commission] does not allow access to its housing facilities' private community rooms for churches to conduct religious worship, services, or programs.” (Dkt. #15-3 at Page ID#496, ¶ 9; dkt. #15-4 at Page ID#500, ¶8.)

Id. at 1016-18.

         Following the issuance of the preliminary injunction, the parties engaged in discovery.

         Although the additional facts presented in instant motions add little that is new to, or changes, the analysis in this case, they provide further specifics about events before and after the preliminary injunction:

1. The Housing Commission operates four public housing facilities: the Hildebrandt facility, the LaRoy Froh facility, the South Washington facility and the Mt. Vernon facility. (ECF No. 53-2 at PageID.1827.) The Church initially sought to use the community rooms at the Hildebrant and LaRoy Froh facilities. Since the entry of the preliminary injunction, the Church has used both of those facilities on Sundays on almost a weekly basis and, with the Housing Commission's permission, expanded its programs to the South Washington and Mt. Vernon facilities on a few days for vacation Bible school events. (Id. at 1828.)
2. The Church actually requested permission from the Housing Commission to use community rooms twice. First, in March 2015, Dr. Kue asked Rhonda Pagel, then-manager of the Hildebrant facility, about using the community rooms for the Church's religious meetings. Pagel rejected the request, telling Dr. Kue that “LHC does not grant access to the community room for religious purposes.” (ECF No. 15-3 at PageID.496.) Although Pagel told Dr. Kue that the Church could use the room to feed people, she denies telling Dr. Kue that the Church could not mention Jesus and they could not bring their Bibles. (ECF No. 53-6 at PageID.1893.) However, Pagel admitted that under the Housing Commission's policy, an outside group could not teach about Jesus in, or bring Bibles to, the community room, (id. at PageID.1893-94), and she admitted that the Church's request was denied solely because the Church's program was religious. (Id. at PageID.1889-90.) The Church applied again to use the Hildebrant community room in late summer ...

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