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Bay View faces second federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination

Pat (Cletch) Williams

A second federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination has been filed against a summer community in Northern Michigan.

Litigation is still ongoing against the Bay View Association over its long-standing requirement that members be  Christian and provide a letter from their pastor, to own a home in the community.

Last year, the Association voted to change that requirement so that a person needed only to support the Bay View mission to obtain a membership. That mission includes being an institution in which “Christian values and traditions are central.” The full bylaw is below:

Agrees to respect the principles of the United Methodist Church and preserve the history and values of the Chautauqua movement. Applicants support the Bay View Association Mission: To be an institution in which Christian values and traditions are central; To enrich the human experience for individuals and families within Bay View and the surrounding community through a seasonal program of religious, educational, cultural and recreational opportunities; to provide a Christian perspective in a changing world.

Don Duquette is a member of the group behind both suits. He said the new lawsuit address the language change, which he says is still discriminatory.

“We want Bay View to be religiously neutral when it comes to housing.”

The lawsuit also includes emails from Bay View officials after the passage of the bylaw, calling on the membership committee to step-up as “the gatekeeper of Bay View’s Christian culture.”

Email from Bay View officials included in lawsuit

Despite ongoing litigation Duquette said he still loves the Bay View community.

“We still have this amazing affection for the community despite the experience we’re going through right now.”

Duquette said a third case is expected to be brought in June against Bay View by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in February determined that the original bylaw and the new language are both discriminatory.

In a written statement a spokesperson for the Bay View Association said they believe its current membership requirements and practices are fully compliant with applicable law. The statement said "Membership is open to all regardless of religious beliefs" Their full response is below:

Membership in Bay View is now open to all regardless of their religious beliefs. Last August, the membership of the Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church overwhelmingly voted to no longer restrict membership to those who are members of the Christian faith. All of Bay View’s membership application materials make this clear and contain a strong statement that Bay View will not discriminate against any applicant based on his/her religious beliefs or the absence of any religious beliefs.

The new membership requirements adopted in August require that applicants for membership agree: (1) to respect the social principles of the United Methodist Church (UMC); and (2) support Bay View’s Mission. Neither of these requirements contain a religious litmus test. The social principles of the UMC largely address how we relate to each other and the world around us Respecting those principles does not require adherence to any religion or theology. While Bay View’s Mission is unapologetically Christian, the application materials make clear that Bay View is dependent upon volunteers and of the more than thirty committees that support Bay View, only one involves religious activities, the balance all largely secular. Bay View provides countless opportunities for members to support Bay View without having to affirm or directly support religious activities.

In 2017, a group sued Bay View over its former membership requirements. That suit remains pending, subject to decisions on motions to dismiss. On April 17, 2019, the same group filed a second lawsuit, apparently not only to get a second bite at the apple at its challenge to the old membership requirements but the new ones as well. Bay View believes that its current membership requirements and practices are fully compliant with applicable law. Bay View believes it has meritorious defenses against all claims in the new lawsuit and will vigorously defend against this latest assault.

It is also important to note that although the US Department of Housing and Urban Development recently alleged that the new membership requirements violate the Fair Housing Act, that allegation was made without consultation with Bay View and before release of the new membership application materials. This allegation will be reviewed by the federal court handing the lawsuits and Bay View believes that it can show that its implementation of the new requirements fully complies with applicable law.