A new Texas law that went into effect recently will protect homeowners who put up religious displays on their lawns such as crosses, Nativity scenes and menorahs from overzealous homeowner associations (HOA). Given the national prevalence of HOAs, the law’s impact will likely be studied by other legislatures around the country.
According to iPropertyManagement.com, 58% of the nation’s homeowners live in HOA communities, with roughly 8,000 new HOAs forming every year. In Texas, that translates to 21,000 HOAs with nearly six million residents – 20% of the state’s population.
The Homeowners Religious Freedom Act, which took effect May 31, states:
“[A] property owners’ association may not enforce or adopt a provision in a dedicatory instrument, including a restrictive covenant, that prohibits a property owner or resident from displaying or affixing on the owner’s or resident’s property or dwelling one or more religious items the display of which is motivated by the owner’s or resident’s sincere religious belief.”
“The HOA does not own your property and should not be in the business of placing overly burdensome restrictions on the free exercise of your religion,” the bill’s sponsor, state Senator Paul Bettencourt, said in a press release. “The bottom line is simply that if a homeowner wants to display a Nativity Scene, put a Cross or Menorah on their door, or exercise their religious freedom, whatever their religion might be, a homeowners association should not have the right to prevent that.”
The overwhelmingly popular bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 31-0, and in the House the margin was 139-4.
Critics of the law warned of the potential for Satanic and Wiccan symbols, or even voodoo shrines to become prominent front yard religious symbols protected by the law.
“There is always a potential that you open Pandora’s box by taking a bill that’s designed primarily to benefit members of established religions — Christianity, Christian religions and Judaism — and it gets hijacked for people who are nonreligious but who would try to use the religious claim,” Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, told the Dallas Observer.
Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for The Satanic Temple, told the Observer, “We are an IRS-recognized, tax-exempt religious church. So, I don’t think they would have any real grounds to say that ‘Satanism need not apply.’”
But it seems to me that before HOAs came into existence, the gospel message – in the form of Nativity scenes and Easter crosses – survived just fine along with contrary messages from secular or even satanic worldviews on display in neighborhoods across the nation. We’ll see how Texans like the new law and the freedom it guarantees, but my guess is that come Christmastime, front yards in the Lone Star State will be festooned with scenes of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.
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