Methodist Resort In Michigan Says Only Christians Can Buy Property There

Mar 30, 2018
Originally published on March 30, 2018 8:57 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Imagine being told that you can't buy a house because of your religion. That's what's happening at a Methodist summer resort in Michigan. There are Methodist camps and associations all across the country, but this one says only practicing Christians can buy property there. Morgan Springer of Interlochen Public Radio has the story.

MORGAN SPRINGER, BYLINE: Bay View Association is a summer resort on Lake Michigan that has more than 400 privately owned cottages that cost anywhere from $120,000 to a million dollars. Anne Rees Pollin's family owns a cottage there.

ANNE REES POLLIN: You have these beautiful cottages. They're these Victorian gingerbread cottages. It's a very safe, quiet place.

SPRINGER: Bay View sounds pretty idyllic. People spend the summer going to concerts and sermons, playing tennis and sailing.

POLLIN: It's like stepping into the past.

SPRINGER: But 59-year-old Pollin says Bay View has a problem. That became clear when she applied to join Bay View and got rejected.

POLLIN: I wasn't rejected because of my personal qualities as a human being. I was rejected because I identify myself as Jewish.

SPRINGER: And because she is Jewish, the association says Pollin can't inherit her family cottage there.

POLLIN: It was crushing.

SPRINGER: Efforts to change those rules have failed, in part because owners like Dick Crossland want Christians to remain in charge.

DICK CROSSLAND: The vision of the founders was clearly to just remain a Christian organization.

SPRINGER: Crossland's been coming to Bay View since he was 2, and he says he loves it the way it is.

CROSSLAND: It's almost a don't fix it if it isn't broken kind of a thing. You don't know what's going to happen.

SPRINGER: This attachment to tradition is not uncommon. But what is unusual is Bay View's refusal to change. Most other private Methodist camps and associations across the country no longer restrict membership this way. The group suing Bay View, which includes Anne Rees Pollin, argues that it's violating the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits religious discrimination. But the association's attorney, Michael Bogren, argues that Bay View is exempt as a religious organization.

MICHAEL BOGREN: It's been associated with the Methodist church, really, its entire existence.

SPRINGER: Michael Seng, a professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago, says in the '90s, a country club in Ohio with ties to the Knights of Columbus lost a similar argument. That became a bedrock case.

MICHAEL SENG: In terms of the reported cases, I'm not aware of any cases that have been won.

SPRINGER: Other than the fair housing angle, those suing Bay View have another approach. Sarah Prescott argues that since it can make regulations and build roads and even have its own police force, Bay View is actually a government entity.

SARAH PRESCOTT: It's certainly the case that when you are the government, you cannot say to people, if you're Jewish or an atheist or a Muslim, you can't be here and own like the rest of people.

SPRINGER: Anne Rees Pollin, the Jewish woman denied membership, is sad about the conflict but resolute.

POLLIN: Whether they acknowledge it or not, they are condoning a form of prejudice. And the world is moving past that.

SPRINGER: Mediation earlier this year failed, so the case will now be decided by a judge. For NPR News, I'm Morgan Springer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.