New Jersey Homeowner Fined for Having Virgin Mary Statue on Porch
Thomas More Society Intervenes in Religious Discrimination by Condo Association
(March 11, 2020 – Fairfield, New Jersey) Two New Jersey homeowners are being fined by their condominium association for placing an 18-inch-tall figurine of the Virgin Mary on their porch. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara is representing Mary Jeanne Vassallo and her co-owner in what he describes as a “clear cut case of religious discrimination in housing.” On March 7, 2020, the not-for-profit, national public interest law firm sent a demand letter to the managing agent of the condominium association and the association’s board members seeking appropriate resolution on the owners’ behalf.
The figurine of the Virgin Mary belonged to Vassallo’s deceased son, who received it as a gift during a church renovation while he was a second-grader in the parish Catholic school and has been in the family for some twenty years. The condominium association board has declared display of the figurine is forbidden and subject to fines. “Additionally,” shared Ferrara, “the owners received an email from a representative of the condo management company describing the statue as an ‘idol’ that ‘should be smashed’.”
At the same time, other condominium residents in Vassallo’s complex are allowed to affix Jewish mezuzahs to their front doors. A mezuzah, whose display Ms. Vassallo fully supports, is a religious icon in the form of a decorative case containing Hebrew scriptures. “Ms. Vassallo seeks only similar accommodation of her own Catholic religion,” said Mr. Ferrara. “This selective enforcement of a condominium regulation is a violation of their rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey state constitution,” explained Ferrara. “Ms. Vassallo has been given no credible explanation as to why mezuzahs, to which she has no objection, are permitted but a figurine of the Blessed Virgin is not.”
Ferrara advised that if the matter cannot be resolved quickly and equitably, a complaint will be filed in New Jersey Superior Court. The action will seek justice under the Federal Fair Housing Act, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, and the New Jersey Constitution. “New Jersey courts have already recognized a state constitutional right to freedom of speech when condo associations have previously attempted to regulate expressive conduct, as is happening in this situation,” noted Ferrara. “I am confident that we can prevail on the claims in this case, which is only part of a national trend of such abuses by condo associations.”
Read the March 7, 2020, demand letter sent to condominium management agent and the condo association board by Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara here [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Demand-Letter-03-07-20.pdf].
About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago, Omaha, and Fairfield, NJ, the Thomas More Society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. For more information, visit thomasmoresociety.org.