HAMDEN — After a condo association threatened to fine a resident for hanging a Jewish religious symbol on her door frame, Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney hopes to pass a narrowly tailored proposal that will protect condo owners’ religious freedom.
The proposal, which was crafted with input from the Anti-Defamation League, will not have a wide-reaching effect because it is “common sense” that this type of behavior is protected by the First Amendment, said the ADL’s Regional Director Gary Jones.
Jones called the condo board’s response “arbitrary,” saying that the Mezuzah that Barbara Cadranel hung on her door frame was not invasive, and that the board refused to back down right away because it did not understand the significance of the Mezuzah as a religious symbol.
A Mezuzah is a piece of parchment on which a Hebrew prayer is inscribed. It is typically hung inside a case. Believers are required by their faith to hang one outside their home, symbolizing that the home is blessed.
Looney said that the proposal will fill a gap in the Connecticut Common Interest Ownership Act, which is the section of state statutes that regulates condominium associations.
If passed, the proposal would bar condominium associations from punishing residents for hanging religious symbols on their door, door frame, or just outside the entrance to a home.
In an attempt to prevent the bill from protecting hate speech, the proposal excludes displays that threaten public health or safety or contain patently offensive graphics or language.
To be considered protected speech under the proposal, the symbol must not extend beyond the doorway, or measure more than 25 square inches.
“We all as a matter of public policy rely on those associations to adopt rules that will be fair, reasonable and anti-discriminatory,” Looney said.
Looney said that he hopes the proposal will be passed this session, but acknowledged that it’s too late for a committee to consider new bill concepts. His solution? Tack the proposal onto existing legislation as an amendment.
The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over legislation governing free speech, and Looney said that he and Sen. Eric Coleman, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, are working to attach the proposal to a suitable bill regarding condominium association conduct.
Barbara Cadranel was first warned by her landlords, the California Condo Association of Stratford, several weeks ago that she would be fined up to $50 a day if she did not remove the Mezuzah from her door frame.
Instead of complying, Cadranel approached Lewin & Lewin, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that specializes in First Amendment law. The firm opted to defend her.
After the condo board continued to resist, the firm recommended that Cadranel speak publicly about the situation, attracting a swarm of local and even some national news media, including NBC, WFSB, and the Connecticut Post.
Representatives from the California Condominium Association in Stratford could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“I call this the Mezuzah-gone-viral scenario,” Jones said. “Once it was clear that the condominium association wasn’t going to back down, Lewin & Lewin said we should go public.”
“I hope the Senator passes it so nobody else has to go through what I went through,” Cadranel said at a press conference held at the ADL’s regional headquarters in Hamden. “It’s ridiculous. There’s no doubt about it.”
Texas, Illinois, and Florida have enacted similar legislation that protects tenants’ First Amendment right to display religious symbols outside of their dwelling, Looney said.