Federal official says church services can be held in public housing

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says religious services are allowed in public housing, such as Elm Towers in High Point, where local officials had recently shut down such services.

The News & Record of Greensboro had reported that the High Point Housing Authority recently ended the volunteer-run religious services in the Elm Towers apartments community room, saying HUD policy didn't allow them.

In an earlier report, the newspaper noted that Racheal Matthews, a spokeswoman for the local housing authority, cited Policy 24, CFR 5.109, which reads:

“Organizations that receive direct HUD funds under a HUD program or activity may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization, as part of the programs or services directly funded under the HUD program or activity.

“If any organization conducts such activities, the activities must be offered separately, in the time or location, from the programs, activities, or services supported by the direct HUD funds, and participation must be voluntary for the beneficiaries of these programs, activities, or services.”

The newspaper reported that after being criticized by residents and Christian-based law firms, the local housing authority asked HUD for an interpretation of the policy.

Joseph J. Phillips of HUD's Atlanta regional office said religious groups generally are given the same access as nonreligious groups. He said the High Point Housing Authority was told by telephone of HUD's policy interpretation yesterday and also would receive it in writing.

Elm Towers resident Robert Jackson says he's missed having church services. He says he no longer drives and can't be away long because he must be home to take his medicine.

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