Senate Bill 652 was signed into law by Governor Newsom protecting the rights of homeowners who wish to display religious symbols on the doorway of their homes. SB 652 adds to the Davis Stirling Common Interest Development Act Civil Code Section 4706 which provides that no governing document shall limit or prohibit the display of one or more religious items on the entry door or entry door frame of a member’s separate interest. Interestingly, this law follows the lead of several other states that over the years have protected the rights of Community Association residents to freedom of religious expression.
For years, many communities have allowed residents to hang religious symbols such as holiday wreathes on front doors or lights around the doorway during the Christmas season. Controversy arose, however, when practicing Jews placed mezuzahs on their door frames or Hindus draped religious flags (“Jhgandis”) around their doorways. These common area expressions of religious beliefs were often seen in conflict with architectural rules prohibiting modification of exterior doors or the display of person items in common area.
Ironically, the State and Federal Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which is modeled after the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. This requires that no covenant, law, or rule discriminate against a resident on the basis of their religion. The Fair Housing Act has long required residential communities to make reasonable accommodations to their rules, policies, practices, or services when necessary to afford persons an equal opportunity to use and enjoyment of a dwelling. If a resident is denied the right to religious observance because they were prohibited from displaying a religious symbol on their doorposts, for example, that is a violation of the Fair Housing Laws. The majority of communities have evolved to recognize that a reasonable accommodation of their architectural rules is required to allow a resident the free exercise of his or her religious beliefs.
Now, however, California has codified that right in Civil Code Section 4706. The new law details that no governing document shall limit or prohibit the display of one or more religious items on the entry door or entry door frame of a member’s separate interest. This section does allow for removal of the religious display for required association maintenance or repair.
For more discussion about the issues surrounding religious observance in community association’s check out the following: