Bay View members speak about lawsuit heading to court Monday

Bay View members speak about lawsuit heading to court Monday

EMMET COUNTY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) -- Many northern Michigan families pass down their homes to their children.

It's a right some members of the Bay View Association say is being violated.

They are going to court on Monday, where a judge could decide if it is legal for the association to only allow practicing Christians to own property there.

Members say the debate has been going on for a decade.

About a year ago, a group of them filed a lawsuit saying the Bay View Association is violating federal laws.

“This is now what we call our 'Bay View in Exile,'" said John Agria.

Agria sold his Bay View cottage two years ago.

He says one of his reasons for selling is that three of his daughters would not be able to inherit it, since they don't regularly attend church.

“What Bay View is doing is, intentionally or unintentionally, is separating families," Agria said.

Agria isn't the only member with that problem.

Others say it comes down to a moral decision.

“I'm motivated mostly, because I think it’s un-Christian," said Don Duquette, a Bay View member who also won't be able to pass his cottage down to his children.

“We have a daughter who is a member," said Lois Hager, another member. "She is saying she can no longer stay a member if this policy isn’t changed. She’s an elementary school principal. It goes against everything she’s teaching in her school. She is embarrassed to be associated with a community that would limit people a particular kind of faith.”

Right now, you must be a practicing Christian to own property in Bay View, or to be a member of the association.

A lawyer representing the group of members and former members says that violates the Federal Fair Housing Act.

The association will be voting on some new by-laws on August 4th.

One of them proposes fining complainants in the lawsuit with the cost of the association's legal fees if the complainants don't win half the counts against Bay View.

Another proposes dropping the rules requiring someone to be Christian, or needing proof from their pastor, to become a member of the association.

Either of those by-laws would need two thirds of the votes to pass.

“We love Bay View," Hager said. "We don’t think Bay View can thrive by being so narrow.”

When asked for a response to those complaints, Bay View said they have already offered a compromise.

A statement from Jon Chism, the Bay View Association's board president reads, “In mid-June, the Board of Trustees proposed a framework for discussing potential resolution of the lawsuit to the plaintiff group. The essence of the proposed framework was to separate cottage ownership from membership of the Bay View non-profit organization and thus remove any religious requirement for cottage ownership. This framework would have also allowed family members to inherit the family cottage without a religious test. The plaintiff group flatly rejected that proposal. The Board is still open to working on a settlement with the plaintiffs, but thus far they have not been willing to discuss a solution.”

After hearing from both sides in federal court on Monday, it could take months for a judge to come to a conclusion.

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