INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — An Independence senior housing complex is under investigation by the Trump administration for what the Liberty Counsel calls a ban on Christmas lights.
MACO Management Company, which oversees Grandview Estates, disputes the claim. It says it has never banned Christmas lights, but is taking steps to make sure no religion is offended.
The Regional Manager of the HUD-subsidized residential complex in Independence property said it started as a dispute between neighbors and she is simply trying to keep the peace this holiday season.
Liberty Counsel calls management’s efforts unconstitutional and now Trump administration officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have opened an investigation.
George Torpey has been putting out nativity scenes in his yard for decades, since he lived in Connecticut and for the past seven years at Grandview Estates.
He said this year was the first year he received a notice he was in violation of his lease agreement.
“They said we couldn’t put any Christmas decorations up,” Torpey said.
In a letter from MACO Management to Liberty Counsel dated December 17th, the management company said residents could decorate inside, but there were rules about outdoor displays.
“We’ve been here since day one and we’ve put up lots of decorations over the past. Its just got to the point where you don’t want to put up anything because they are constantly putting up stickers and notes on your door,” Al McClure said.
“We know from HUD documents that there is no restriction on people in HUD housing from being able to celebrate the holidays with the decorations on their property however they want,” the V.P. of Legal Affairs for Liberty Counsel, Roger Gannam, said.
On December 20th a letter from management went out to residents saying they could decorate “their front door and porch areas with more overtly religious displays,” but “when decorating with yard scenes we must stay neutral within the community so no religion is offended or singled out.”
Some residents take it as a war on Christmas.
“When it comes to religious expression why should anyone be dictated to how they can think or believe or display?” McClure said.
“There’s people today that want to do away with Christmas. That’s what it’s all about,” Torpey said.
Liberty Counsel said it just wants to make sure all residents are free to put out displays for any religious observance, as outlined by a 2001 policy by the then HUD Secretary Mel Martinez.
Gannam said his group has found no evidence that policy has ever been rescinded. Martinez said at the time the policy follows prevailing case law and is backed by the First Amendment.
MACO Management says its lease Agreement has been set up in accordance with Fair Housing Policies.
Though religious displays aren’t expressly mentioned, the company’s regional manager said such displays are covered by the word, “etc.” in the section regarding keeping lawns and other common areas “clear of furniture, bicycles, birdbaths, etc.”