Friday, June 20, 2008

Termination and Eviction Over Art With a Scripture Reference Results in Federal Lawsuit

Today, a couple who worked and lived at Thornwood Terrace Apartments in Lake City, Florida, a government-subsidized facility owned and operated by The Hallmark Companies and Hallmark Management, is filing suit in federal court against Hallmark after they were terminated and evicted for displaying artwork referencing a Scripture verse in their office. Daniel Dixon was manager and lead maintenance technician at the apartment complex where he lived with his wife, Sharon, who was also a manager.

Liberty Counsel represents Daniel and Sharon Dixon in the case of Dixon v. Hallmark Companies. Hallmark owns and manages an apartment complex, which contains units that are government-subsidized by the USDA Rural Development program. Under the USDA program, Hallmark is required to comply with federal employment and housing antidiscrimination laws.
For at least eight years before they were fired and evicted, the Dixons had a 50"x26" piece of stained glass artwork featuring flowers hanging on the wall in the management office where they worked. On the glass was a partial Scripture verse in 1-1/4 inch letters that read: "Consider the Lilies…Matthew 6:28."

In September 2007, Christina Saunders, regional manager for Hallmark, asked Sharon if the words on the artwork referred to Scripture. After Sharon said they did, Sanders told her to remove the artwork. Sharon replied that she needed to discuss it with her co-manager husband, Daniel, and left the office to find him. While Sharon was gone, Sanders consulted her supervisor, Norine Lewis, and then took the artwork and put it inside Daniel and Sharon's apartment. When Sharon returned, Sanders said that Sharon and Daniel were "too religious." She fired them and demanded they vacate their apartment within 72 hours.

The Dixons were granted unemployment compensation over the objection of Hallmark, because Hallmark did not substantiate its claims of misconduct by the Dixons. The Dixons are filing suit today, claiming violations of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of religion. The lawsuit requests punitive damages against Hallmark for reckless indifference to the federal laws.

For eight years, without any complaint, Daniel and Sharon Dixon displayed floral artwork containing a citation to Scripture in their office. They were suddenly terminated as a result of the religious bigotry of one supervisor, even though no one objected to the picture. The Dixons lost their jobs and were booted out on the street, solely because artwork in their office made reference to the Bible. The Constitution and federal law prohibit religious discrimination. There must be ‘room in the inn’ for religious viewpoints.