Hastings Law Journal


When a landlord refuses to rent to a couple, for reasons motivated by religious beliefs or religious practices, and that refusal violates an anti-discrimination housing law, should the landlord be prosecuted under the law or excused pursuant to constitutional free exercise guarantees? The supreme courts of four states have recently addressed the conflict between the right of religious freedom and the goal of eradicating discrimination in housing in the context of a landlord's refusal to rent to an unmarried couple. The four states evenly split: two states favored the landlord, and two favored the tenants.

This Note addresses the roots of constitutional free exercise guarantees and discusses cases which have interpreted, expanded and limited the right to free exercise. The Note also discusses federal and state housing discrimination laws. Next, the Note analyzes and compares the four state supreme court cases which dealt with the conflict between free exercise of religion and housing discrimination laws. Finally, the author rejects the proposition that either the landlord's or the tenants' interests must always prevail at the expense of the other in the marital status context. The author proposes creating an exception based on the status of the landlord which would reasonably accommodate the landlord's religious rights with the legislative goal of providing housing to unmarried couples in a non-discriminatory manner.

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