NEW YORK (Nov. 2)
A legal test has been launched in Virginia, at state and federal levels, on whether a real estate firm may use openly Christian symbols in its promotional advertising, in violation of state and federal housing laws banning such discriminatory promotion, on grounds it has a constitutional right to do so in exercise of freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
The action was started by the North Carolina Virginia regional office in Richmond, of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Normal Olshansky, regional director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today in a telephone interview.
The target of the action is Paul Lotz Realty Co. of Newport News, which uses such slogans, in its promotion, as “Christians, Tell A Friend;” “Jesus is Coming;” and that the firm is a member of the “National Christian Referral Service.” Olshansky said Lotz uses such material on his business stationery, on billboards and in advertising in two local dailies and several local weekly newspapers.
Olshansky said the ADL office had protested to the media and that the position of the publication officials has been that Lotz says he has the right to sponsor such material and that, until the courts rule otherwise, they will continue to publish such Lotz advertising.
Virginia state and federal laws ban use by real estate firms of proposals which indicate a preference for or limitation of prospective buyers of housing. The agencies involved are the Virginia Real Estate Commission (VREC) and the federal Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD).
Olshansky told the JTA that such real estate advertising is being done by many realtors but that the ADL intends to test its legality before deciding whether to proceed against realtors in other areas of the United States. He said he understands there was no precedent at the state level of a test of the constitutionality of such real estate promotional methods and that the Richmond ADL action may also involve a first test of such real estate promotion at the federal level.
Lotz filed suit against the VREC and HUD in the federal court for the eastern district of Virginia, asking for an injunction against the state and federal housing agencies, for a ruling on whether the law — which is identical for both the state of Virginia and the federal government — was constitutional and claiming that the procedures against his firm by the state and federal agencies were procedurally inappropriate.
The federal court rejected Lotz’ appeal for an injunction and held that the proceedings were procedurally appropriate. The court did not rule on the constitutional issue, Olshansky said.
BACKGROUND OF THE SITUATION
Olshansky said that initially, the real estate commission declined to act on the ADL’s complaint, filed in 1980, but last Friday it decided to refer the complaint to the state Attorney General, Gerald Baliles, for action to stop the Lotz company’s use of Christian symbols. He said both state and federal fair housing laws ban advertising which “indicates a preference or limitation” of prospective home buyers based on religion, race, sex or national origin,
Olshansky said “it is now up to the Attorney General of Virginia and the United States Justice Department to ask the appropriate state and federal courts to enforce the law.”
The VREC reversed itself after Bernard Henderson, Jr., director of the state Department of Commerce, asked the commission to reconsider the ADL complaint. Because of the constitutional issue, Henderson said that the proper route for review of the ADL complaint is through the state Attorney General. Henderson said the VREC does not have jurisdiction over constitutional issues.
Olshansky said the latest action by the VREC amounts to a finding that there is a violation of the state’s fair housing law. He added that the Attorney General may now seek an injunction in the state circuit court in the Richmond area.
Olshansky also reported that the case, which had been in HUD’s fair housing enforcement division since September, was sent Friday to the HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance, with the recommendation that it be transmitted to the office of HUD General Counsel for referral to the federal Department of Justice. Olshansky told the JTA that such action could be expected in about a week.
FIRM ASKED LOCAL CLERGY FOR SUPPORT
Olshansky said the case also involved letters from Lotz to local clergy, asking their support for his use of Christian references in his real estate advertising. He described the letters as “blatantly anti-Semitic. ” Asked his reasons for that description, Olshansky told the JTA that, in the letters, Lotz equated Judaism with Communism and charged that “the Jews” were involved in some sort of conspiracy against Christians.
Olshansky said that, despite the federal court ruling rejecting his request for an injunction Lotz notified housing authorities that he was “committed” to continue to use Christian symbols and other forms of religious advertising in the conduct of his real estate business.
Asked what the ADL would do if it lost its fight in the legal arena to force Lotz to halt such advertising, Olshansky told the JTA that ADL will not drop the fight but will consider what further legal steps it might take.