YOUR RIGHT TO PRACTICE YOUR RELIGION MAY NOT BE AS STRONG AS YOU THOUGHT IT WAS

So last week we blogged about the fact that your right to display religious symbols on your own property is limited.  In a condominium, you only have the right to display a small religious object on the frame or mantle of your door.  In an HOA, there is no statute whatsoever which gives you the right to display any religious symbol at all.  Nobody really knows for sure what your rights to display a religious symbol are on your own property in an HOA.  You may need to check your own HOA governing documents.

If you think that the Board’s power is limited solely to preventing religious displays on the exterior of your condominium unit or the exterior of your home, think again.  The Board can even decide what religious displays are allowed on the common areas.

In Tower Forty-One Association v. Levitt¸ 426 So.2d 1290 (3rd DCA, 1983) the appeals court upheld a ruling by the trial court which agreed with a condominium association that prohibited an owner from displaying a Succoh on a common element.  In that case, the bylaws of the association stated that “No industry, business, trade, occupation or profession of any kind, commercial, religious, educational, or otherwise, shall be conducted, maintained, or permitted on any part of the property or in any condominium parcel.” The court simply prevented the condominium association from violating its own documents.

In Neuman v. Grandview at Emerald Hills, Inc., 861 So.2d 494 (4th DCA, 2003) the condominium association passed a rule banning the use of the common elements for religious services.  In fact, the association only did so after 70% of the owners voted in favor of such a rule.  Two unit owners challenged the rule in court, taking the position that their constitutional rights were being violated as was Florida Statute 718.123 which precludes condominium rules from unreasonably restricting a unit owner’s right to peaceably assemble.  Here is what else the court said:

It appears to us that inherent in the condominium concept is the principle that to promote the health, happiness, and peace of mind of the majority of the unit owners since they are living in such close proximity and using facilities in common, each unit owner must give up a certain degree of freedom of choice which he might otherwise enjoy in separate, privately owned property. Condominium unit owners comprise a little democratic sub society of necessity more restrictive as it pertains to use of condominium property than may be existent outside the condominium organization.

The court found the rule prohibiting religious services in the common areas to be reasonable and sided with the association.

So while we are about to head into some pretty holy days next month, eat, drink and be merry.  And remember, despite your passion and zeal to display your pride in your religion, you may have to somewhat keep it in check.  But…….do you agree that to create a more harmonious society in a Florida community association you may have to give up some freedom?

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