U.S. May Sue Foes of Plan for the Homeless

The First Amendment to the United States Consitution protects freedom of speech. Except ...

Politicians love exceptions.

As reported in the July 31, 1994, New York Times, p. A-13, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating a Berkeley resident for distributing political pamphlets against a proposed homeless shelter.

The resident, Alexandra White, along with her husband Joseph Deringer and neighbor Richard Graham, may be prosecuted under the Federal Fair Housing Act. If convicted, they could receive a $10,000 fine plus "restitution."

HUD is using the Fair Housing Act to silence critics of its programs. The act prohibits housing discrimination on such basis as race, mental illness or drug abuse. HUD officials claim private citizens' opposition to housing programs on such grounds is itself housing discrimination.

As the Times reported:

HUD used the Fair Housing Act against an avowed white supremacist who taunted and threatened a black resident in Vidor, Texas. An administrative law judge ordered the racist to pay more than $300,000 for emotional distress as well as $10,000 for discriminatory housing practices.

... Federal investigators asked for every article, flier and letter to the editor that Ms. White, Mr. Deringer and Mr. Graham had written about the Bel Air, as well as minutes from any meeting they have spoken at, said David Bryden, their lawyer.

Ann Brick, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, called the HUD investigation disturbing. "There's a big difference between the HUD going after a government body denying permits and going after citizens complaining about a project," Ms. Brick said. "We may not find their opposition admirable, but it's a fundamental right of citizens to make their views known."