Sunday, April 23, 2006


Two residents of a Southern California senior mobile home park are suing the homeowner's association for barring prayer and Bible study meetings in common areas. For 17 years, residents met weekly in the Warner Springs Estates clubhouse for a prayer and Bible study meeting, most recently led by local pastor Andy Graham. But in August 2004, after new leadership took over the homeowner's association, Graham was told in a threatening letter posted at the clubhouse to stop the Wednesday night meetings, according to the United States Justice Foundation, or USJF, which represents residents Susan Eva-Marie Heraver and Catherine Lovejoy.

Colette Wilson, the lead attorney in the case, told WND the letter essentially said, "Anybody who tries to defy us, we're going to sue your pants off." Just prior to that, when the Bible study group gathered for its regular meeting, tenants and mobile home park staff were allowed to harass, threaten and interfere with the meetings, Wilson said. During other events scheduled during the week, such as Bingo on Tuesdays, it's understood that others in the room should be respectful and not in interruptive, but during the Bible study, the hostile residents acted in a "threatening manner," with antics such as blasting the volume on the TV and talking loudly, according to Wilson. One woman threatened meeting participants with a pool cue, and when she was videotaped, grabbed the camera, called police and claimed she was attacked, Wilson said.

After the threatening letter, the attorney noted, the Bible study group gave up and began meeting in each other's homes. But Wilson said it limited them, because they couldn't accommodate the up-to-40 people who met in the clubhouse, where there also was adequate parking and handicapped access. Wilson said the meetings were nondenominational and included people of many different backgrounds, including Catholics, Jews and Protestants.

Responding to an attempt by USJF to resolve the dispute without litigation, the defendants argued the residents have no right to have prayer services. The homeowners association, they insist, can determine who will use the common areas and under what conditions. Wilson contends this is contrary to the constitutions of the U.S. and California and the Unruh Act. She argued "numerous case precedents bar discrimination against people wishing to use commons areas in mobile home parks, in condominium complexes, and in other areas from holding Bible meetings or prayer meetings." "The attempt by the homeowners association to discriminate against those who wish to hold such prayer or Bible meetings, and the support of the homeowners association of the attempts to intimidate tenants out of having such meetings, is not only inexcusable, but illegal," Wilson said. The homeowners association passed resolution against religious meetings then revoked it, she explained, but in practice, the ban remains in effect.

At the association's monthly meeting, residents ask about whether they can have a religious group and the head of board always says no, Wilson explained. She plans to file a new preliminary injunction in court asking that the meetings immediately be allowed to resume.



Georgia became what is believed to be the first state to offer government-sanctioned elective classes on the Bible, with Gov. Sonny Perdue signing a bill into law Thursday. The governor also signed a bill permitting the display of the Ten Commandments at courthouses, an issue that has raised thorny constitutional questions. Critics say the measures blur the line between church and state. National civil rights groups said they want to see how the laws are implemented before deciding whether to challenge them in court.

The Bible is already incorporated into classes in Georgia and other states, and some local school districts have passed measures permitting classes devoted solely to the Bible. But education analysts say the law in Georgia is the first time a state government has endorsed such courses. The new law allows elective classes on the Bible to be taught to high school students. Local school systems will decide whether to teach the courses.

The state Education Department has until February to craft curriculums. The law requires that the courses be taught "in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students."

The state's new Ten Commandments law was prompted by controversy over the posting of the commandments at the Barrow County Courthouse. A federal judge ordered the display removed in July. Backers of the law made clear they were trying to craft a statute that would survive any constitutional challenges. In a split decision last June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared exhibits of the Ten Commandments constitutional if their main purpose was to honor the nation's legal, rather than religious, traditions, and if they didn't promote one religious sect over another. Both bills passed the state Legislature by comfortable margins.


Muslim women demand single-sex gym workouts

Never mind that this is a business that caters to both men and women and there are women-only fitness companies operating in this area that they could go to. Even providing separate exercise areas is not enough, apparently. Men have to be banned from the premises altogether on certain days. Dearborn, Michigan is home to one of the largest populations of Arabs outside of the Middle East. Another step on a slippery slope that will make us all follow the rules of Islam.

About 200 Muslim women have asked the Fitness USA chain to honor what they say was its promise to provide separate exercise times for women and men. They say they need single-sex workout times to accommodate Islam's standards of modesty. Arrwa Mogalli, 28, of Dearborn said that she agreed to buy a $1,465 lifetime membership with the chain after being promised that its Lincoln Park facility would be open only to women on certain days. This month, the gym in this southern Detroit suburb decided to open up part of the center to both sexes every day. "I felt like all the money I just spent ... has gone to waste," Mogalli said.

Mogalli is among about 200 women with Fitness USA memberships who have signed a petition asking the chain to restore single-sex exercise days for the entire gym or to put up a divider so men and women cannot see each other while exercising. Fitness USA officials met Tuesday with petition drive supporter Ammerah Saidi and Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, at the company's corporate office in West Bloomfield. "We don't want to punish" Fitness USA, Walid said. "We just want to make matters right."

The company is reviewing the women's concerns, said Jodi Berry, administrative director for Fitness USA. But the company said that the women's written contracts say nothing about gender.

Southeastern Michigan, home to about 300,000 Arab-Americans, has undergone some changes because of the growing Muslim presence. Public schools in Dearborn offered single-sex physical education classes for several years in response to requests from some Muslim parents. "In Islam, there are codes of modesty for both genders," Saidi, a 23-year-old lifetime Fitness USA member from Dearborn, told the Detroit Free Press this week. "When you're working out, you're not dressed modestly, and you're bending in provocative ways, so you can't be working out with the opposite gender."

Saidi said she joined Fitness USA last year because managers repeatedly gave oral promises that there would be single-sex workout days at some facilities. She said people of other faiths, including Orthodox Jews and some Christians, share similar concerns.

At the Dearborn location, women can work out without men on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In Lincoln Park, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are women's days. There also are women-only days on alternate Sundays in Westland.


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