- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

An Akron, Ohio, landlord who refuses to rent property to an unmarried couple has sued the state's civil rights commission for publicly condemning his decision and inviting legal action against him.
The plaintiff, David Grey, said cohabitation runs contrary to "[his] Christian religious beliefs," and that his right to select tenants is constitutionally guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Mr. Grey declined to lease a house to single mother Danielle Levingston and her fiance, Todd Roberts, who then filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and the Fair Housing Advocates Association of Akron.
In February, the commission ruled that Mr. Grey had violated state civil rights law concerning discriminatory housing.
Miss Levingston, who could not be reached for comment, said in her complaint that Mr. Grey lectured her about his faith before asking her to leave his property.
"I've experienced all kinds of prejudice in my life because I'm black and a woman," she told the Akron Beacon Journal.
G. Michael Payton, OCRC executive director, said the commission's ruling was a preliminary step and that commissioners would meet again June 13 to decide whether the case merited a public hearing. The OCRC is the agency charged with enforcing Ohio's discrimination laws.
If the commission decides to hold a public hearing, Mr. Payton said, it also is required to take legal action against Mr. Grey.
"Mr. Grey has petitioned the commission to reverse its decision, and that will also be considered with his lawyer present at the June 13 hearing," said OCRC spokeswoman Connie Higgins. "But I must stress that less than 1 percent of these cases are reversed at this final review stage."
In the motion filed on May 29 at the Summit County Courthouse, Mr. Grey argued the OCRC's "threat to enforce" the statute against him thus would be an infringement on his right to free religious expression. Mr. Grey added that he never asked Miss Levingston about her religion.
Mr. Grey's attorney, David Langdon, said the real issue is marital status. Religion, he said, is a moot point because the law forbids discriminatory housing in cases of "race, color, religion, sex, familial status, ancestry, disability or national origin," but not marital status.
"Other states have civil rights statutes that do address marital status," he said. "But Ohio does not."
Mr. Langdon suspects an ulterior motive in the OCRC's preliminary actions.
"I think one thing that may be behind all of this is the type of political correctness that ignores the law in favor of an agenda," he said.
"The OCRC is bending over backwards to try to protect a couple that simply isn't protected legally. But they apparently have no regard for Mr. Grey's rights, which are in fact very clear under the First Amendment."
Mr. Grey's counsel and court costs have been provided by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona Christian legal group that acts on behalf of religious freedom.

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