Housing Discrimination?
The Meeks Family

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: The Meeks Family
BCC: John Dearing
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Monday, June 12, 2000 3:15 AM

They don't need a reason in Oregon if they give you a 30-day no-cause eviction. They could claim that they need to renovate, or they could claim that a relative wants to move into the unit. It doesn't matter. However, you can make a big stink if you can make a solid case that this is the reason, and may even get the ACLU on your side. Who knows? Perhaps you can find a law or even change the laws to protect others (though it's probably too late for you).

If you are on a Housing Authority (HUD) Section 8 Grant or Voucher, you have rights that are much stricter than those allowed by the State of Oregon. If they agreed to rent to you under Housing Authority standards, they can't just get rid of you, but must have more than valid reasons and be ready for an expensive fight. They can, however, refuse to renew your lease when Section 8 Recertification time comes. This is the only way we've been able to get rid of dope dealers who are on Section 8 -- refuse to renew their lease.

The Eugene and Corvallis secular groups are good, and you can contact them by sending e-mail to John Dearing <jsdearing@home.com>. John is in Corvallis, and I forgot who is holding the ball in Eugene, but the two groups are affiliated.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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After receiving a few versions of this story from leaders of various atheist groups, we sent these messages to the Meeks family. What astounded us were the offers by the groups to help publicize this case -- in lieu of any offers to help solve the problem at hand.

 

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: The Meeks Family
BCC: John Dearing
Subject: Housing Case
Date: Wednesday, June 14, 2000 4:55 PM

Hello, You contacted me about finding an advocacy group in Eugene, and I recommended John Dearing in Corvallis. His e-mail is <jsdearing@home.com> and he is a very good man.

I notice the news of this case floating around the atheistic Internet gossip circles, and should warn you that, like any ideology, atheism has its opportunists.

Again, I urge that John Dearing and the two groups in Eugene and Corvallis are some of the most dignified and hard-working advocacy groups in this field (and so is American Atheists, on both a local and national level), and I highly recommend that you bring your case to Mr. Dearing first.

Going on the talk-show circuit (or whatever, along those lines), while it will serve to draw attention to this or that atheist group, could cause big problems for you.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: The Meeks Family
Subject: Re: Housing Case
Date: Wednesday, June 14, 2000 7:04 PM

I forgot to mention that my contact at American Atheists is Conrad Goeringer (he contributes a lot of material to our magazine). His personal e-mail is [suppressed] and has told me it is okay to give you his e-mail. You do well to run your story by him and tell him of your situation.

Conrad is a wonderful man. We've known each other for several years, and have grown together in our values and in our views regarding how atheistic activism should be done.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From:
To: "John Dearing"
Sent: Wednesday, June 14, 2000 10:57 PM
Subject: Re: atheist family faces eviction

Hello everyone:

My family and I would like to thank everyone who e-mailed and called. We are truly overwhelmed by all the support.

The first 17 years of my life I endured the torture of growing up a Jehovah Witness. I got out with only minor brain damage. Others I grew up with were less fortunate.

Although I have been Atheist for many years I mostly kept it to myself, as I never met anyone that shared my beliefs. It wasn't until after we purchased our computer and learned of how religion is being forced upon us from all directions by the likes of Pat Robertson and many others, that we became more outspoken. I have learned more from the Freedom from Religion Foundation and author Dan Barker in the last 6 months than I have in the ten years prior.

We have spoken with several attorneys and everyone agrees that we have a weak case due to lack of evidence and the rental agreement we signed. My wife and I decided we will not fight to stay in a house that we are not welcome in. Since the recent graduation there is no shortage of places to rent in the Eugene area. The timing is good.

We are 99 percent sure that our stickers offended the wrong person and led to our eviction. The Fair Housing Counsel of Oregon (1-800-424-3247) has found that there is sufficient evidence for an investigation. Also a reporter from a local paper is trying to get permission to write a story about our situation.

I'm off to Legal Aid (541-485-1017) tomorrow after work to see if we can get an attorney appointed to us so we can recoup some of our moving expenses and put our fundamentalist landlords in some hot water. So if anyone wants to put a little fire under these 2 organizations by dropping a quick e-mail or call we think it may help.

If all else fails we will come out of this with some new friends who share our beliefs and have common goals.

We will be attending the Corvallis Summer Solstice Potluck at the Corl House (3975 NW Witham Hill Dr.) Saturday from 1-4.

Also on Sunday at 1 there is a local meeting in Eugene at 500 East 4th Ave. We hope to make some new friends.

Thanks again everyone for your time and kind words.

Sincerely,

David Meeks

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From:
To: "John Dearing"
Sent: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 9:32 PM
Subject: Springfield news reporter and photographer came for a story on eviction!

John,

Things are starting to look up for us. Kim Sullivan and a photographer from the Springfield news came by and spoke with us for about an hour or so. She was so nice and seemed very concerned about our eviction. If everything goes right we will be in Saturday's paper. We got our picture taken in front of our house and some in front of our van with the stickers from FFRF. She knows the right people, ACLU, Chamber of Commerce, etc.etc. She will be doing some investigating over the next few days. She said even if we cannot prove religious discrimination, just the fact that a landlord can evict someone without any reason seems very unfair and leaves the door open for discrimination. Maybe we can change the landlord tenant laws to protect folks like us who choose not to believe in superstitions. We also mentioned yours and Heidi's name to her and the name change of the Eugene group, so she may be in touch with you as well.

Legal Aid says this is a case for the ACLU and they have limited resources, but gave us some legal papers and the names of 2 lawyers to contact.

National Atheist e-mailed us and asked us to call and said they may be able to help us also. I e-mailed them our phone number (541-988-1308) and hope to hear from them. I hope that Freethought Today will pick up the story also.

We will keep you informed of any further developments.

Short

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From: "The Springfield News" <thenews@pond.net>
To:
Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2000 10:58 AM
Subject: Lease termination
Date: Wed, Jun 21, 2000, 10:49 PM

I wanted to give you an update. I talked to the Harpers who adamantly deny that your termination of lease, which they say is different from an eviction, has anything at all to do with your Atheist beliefs. I asked them why they let you move in at all if it would just be for two weeks. Mr. Harper said you're "a very nice couple" but they'd had a change of heart. They gave me no indication, on record, that it was to do with your beliefs. I asked several questions. They said they didn't make you pay a first and last month's rent (as some landlord's do) because they knew you had just moved here. They let you in quickly, they said, because there was a sense of urgency on your part to get your family and especially Brendan out of the hotel-motel situation.

They also said you would have no problem getting your deposit of $450 back if there's no damage. I told them you felt you would incur moving expenses and they stayed firm that they thought they were being fair by giving you five extra days. I do not want to be in a "he said, she said" situation but I want to share with you why this story can't run at this point. I had a long talk with my editor and this would be a difficult article to do without any sort of proof. I asked the Harpers if they had any problems with how you took care of the place or interacted with the neighbors. They said, "No," they were just exercising their rights (by law) to terminate your rental agreement. They said they've done this before and that landlords use the "no cause" option to avoid any sort of legal hassles for any side. It was "easier" they said on both sides and that tenants have the same rights.

I believe you truly believe they are asking you to leave because of your atheist views. I just cannot report on it without some sort of fact on the other side. I do think it's important for renters, in general, to understand this strange Oregon law. I had never heard of it. If you find out more, legally, please tell me. Unless the Harpers said it was to do with beliefs, it is burden of proof on you to prove violation of First Amendment rights. If you were a Christian family being evicted by an Atheist landlord, or Buddhist or Muslim or any other type of discrimination could be proven, I would feel the same about it being unfair. In this case it's very, very difficult because the Harpers didn't say whether they were Christian or not and they swear they did not see your bumper stickers and even said, if they had, that sort of thing wouldn't bother them, that they don't ever ask renters if they go to church or not. So, that is where that's at. I got your email from the email forwarded to our paper from The Secular Society. Please let me know if anything changes or if you get any more information. My email at work is thenews@pond.net.

Sincerely,

Kim Sullivan

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