Donna Dunbar | Cases | First Liberty

Meet the Dunbars

Donna Dunbar and her husband Clarence share a commitment to serving others rooted in their deeply-held religious beliefs. The Dunbars founded the Lighthouse Outreach Center, a soup kitchen ministering to the needs of the homeless. The center is still in operation today despite multiple setbacks due to burglary, arson, and a hurricane.

For their dedication of over 4,000 volunteer hours at the soup kitchen and in the community, President Obama awarded the Dunbars the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2010.

Board Outlaws Prayer and Religious Services from Common Areas

After moving into the Cambridge House condominiums in Port Charlotte, Florida, Donna began a small Bible study with some of her friends. They met in the condominium building’s social room, a common area available for residents to use for various recreational activities such as card games and birthday parties. Just three months after Donna began her small group Bible study, the then-treasurer for Cambridge House Board of Directors demanded that Mrs. Dunbar acquire insurance for the meeting, even though no other groups using the same room for secular activities were required to purchase insurance. Though she disputed the need for the insurance, she complied in hopes that this would be the end of the matter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The Board of Directors, without prior notice, adopted a resolution providing that “Prayers and other religious services, observations, or meetings of any nature shall not occur . . . in or upon any of the common elements.”

After adopting the policy, the Cambridge House management sent Mrs. Dunbar a letter announcing the rule’s passage and explaining that the new policy “prohibits Bible Study meetings in the Social Room.”

First Liberty Legal Action

Attorneys with First Liberty Institute partnered with our network attorneys to file a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of Mrs. Dunbar against the Cambridge House Condominiums in Port Charlotte, Florida. The complaint states that residents have been denied equal access to the community’s social room for meetings based on their religious content and requests HUD investigate the matter and take all appropriate actions.

The Cambridge House board rescinded the rule pending the outcome of the HUD investigation, and through HUD’s mediation efforts, the parties reached a conciliation agreement that protects Mrs. Dunbar’s access to the social room for the weekly Bible study.

“I am thankful to First Liberty Institute for fighting on my behalf and am relieved that I can continue to meet with my friends to pray and study God’s word together. I am extremely thankful to our current board members who made it possible,” said Mrs. Dunbar.

Reclaiming Faith in the Home | Support First Liberty

News Release
For Immediate Release: 2.7.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

First Liberty Announces Settlement with Florida Condominium Association After Religious Liberty Violation
Residents granted access to common use facilities for Bible study that was previously denied because of its religious content

Port Charlotte, Florida—Attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman & Kolaya announced they have resolved the Fair Housing complaint of a resident at the Cambridge House Condominiums in Port Charlotte, Florida who had been denied access to the community’s social room for meetings based on their religious content.

“We commend the condominium board for working with us to protect our client’s religious liberty,” said Lea Patterson, Counsel at First Liberty.  “Our client is grateful that she will be able to enjoy equal access to the social room.”

First Liberty client Donna Dunbar held a small Bible study once a week in the Cambridge House social room.  In 2018, the Cambridge House Board adopted a resolution prohibiting “Prayers and other religious services, observations, or meetings of any nature . . . in or upon any of the common elements.”  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) investigated after receiving Mrs. Dunbar’s complaint, which argued that this action violated the Fair Housing Act.

Through HUD’s mediation efforts, the parties reached a conciliation agreement that protects Mrs. Dunbar’s access to the social room for the weekly Bible study.

“I am thankful to First Liberty Institute for fighting on my behalf and am relieved that I can continue to meet with my friends to pray and study God’s word together. I am extremely thankful to our current board members who made it possible,” said Mrs. Dunbar.

Learn more about this case at FirstLiberty.org/Dunbar.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


News Release – 3.8.18

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