Lancaster’s’s “secularization” is a direct consequence of a court order resulting from Federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit. The court stripped Lancaster of its Christian identity because Lancaster was found in violation of Fair Housing laws. It had nothing whatever to do with changes in membership by-laws allowing “non-Christians” to buy cottages. Had Lancaster proceeded more cautiously and with more compromise, rather than being inflexible, they could have avoided this result. Bay View’s moderate by-law amendment is intended to preserve our Christian heritage so that a court does not impose the sort of sanction that was imposed on Lancaster Campground.
Here are Rev. Stan Sutton’s comments on the episode:
As you may recall, I was tangentially involved as a witness in a lawsuit between a would-be leaseholder and the Lancaster Campground (LCG). LCG has its roots in the Methodist Church as a campground and assembly. It has perhaps 50 cottages, a large tabernacle, dining facilities, and programs that run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It probably started as a Chautauqua, but never kept the arts pillar. Nevertheless, it hosts many church events, has bylaws, I believe, similar to Bay View’s with language that required leaseholders to be Christians.
A Jewish/Christian couple, who had rented a cottage for many years, tried to buy one. Their membership application was denied because one of them was Jewish. They sued LCG under the Federal Fair Housing laws. LCG tried to join the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church into the suit, claiming they were exempt from the law by religious affiliation. I testified on behalf of the conference, against the campground. The conference was dismissed from the case on summary judgment.
The trial (Case N. C2-97-1096) was held in the Southern District of Ohio U.S. District Court. The Magistrate Judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, against LCG. Although the monetary damages were relatively small, the legal bills were so substantial that LCG was forced to sell most of its vacant land to cover the costs. More importantly, the remedies imposed by the court were draconian:
- Eliminate all references to Methodist or Christian terms in all descriptions of the campground, its housing, and signage.
- Eliminate all portions of Bylaws, the constitution, and any rules and regulations that identify, state or reference a religious belief or preference, including religious terms such as “Christian”.
- Participate in quarterly monitoring for five years. LCG had to pay for this monitoring.
- The court then gave four prohibitory injunctions against LCG and four affirmative reliefs.
R. Stanley Sutton
Here’s a far more relevant case: Lakeside, a Christian Chautauqua in Ohio founded in 1875 and, like Bay View, affiliated with the United Methodist Church , has never had any religious restrictions on cottage ownership– anyone of any faith tradition can buy a cottage. Yet, in all those years, Christian ownership of cottages has never fallen below 98% and today stands at 98.6%.