Brigham Young University and apartment owners who enforce its off-campus housing policy are joining forces to fight an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit.
"Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, we assure our students and their parents of one thing: single students at BYU will never be required to occupy the same bedrooms with members of the opposite sex," said BYU President Rex Lee. "At issue here is one of the most fundamental tenets of LDS religious belief, and we will not yield to its elimination at BYU." BYU is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."All the landlords feel very supportive of BYU off-campus housing," said Richard Knapp, owner of University Properties. After meeting for more than three hours, Knapp and David Freeman, owner of the Glenwood and Riviera apartments, were chosen as spokesmen for the apartment owners because they account for 75 percent of the apartment units named in the ACLU suit.
Because the suit challenges Brigham Young University's off-campus housing policy, BYU offered legal services to the defendants. The apartment owners chose to retain their own attorney instead - Richard Hymas with Nielsen and Senior in Salt Lake City.
"We're together enough that we can have one counsel," Knapp said. "We unanimously decided that we wanted one voice."
BYU also chose to intervene in the suit, retaining Anne Q. Wood with Wood, Spendlove & Quinn in Salt Lake City.
"It's an advantage to have two attorneys, they can do twice the research," said BYU spokesman Brent Harker.
At issue is BYU-approved housing, which requires apartment owners to discriminate between students and non-students and to provide separate housing for single male and female students under 25. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal civil-rights suit last Thursday against 12 apartment owners, claiming they violate the Fair Housing Act by dividing apartment buildings into men and women's dwellings or reserving some for married students.
In 1978, Brigham Young University was given permission from the Justice Department to require men and women to live under separate roofs. Non-students must be housed in separate buildings.
The ACLU will seek a preliminary injunction next week ordering all apartments to rent to students and non-students of both sexes and marital status. The owners will then have five days to respond, Knapp said.
"Our position is solidly based on the United States Constitution and on statutory law, as we will establish in this action," Lee said in a released statement.
Knapp disputed the ACLU's contention that apartment owners discriminate according to religion and familial status.
"Those allegations simply are not true," he said.
He admitted that apartment owners segregate the sexes but defended it.
"We do it, and we believe it's right, and we have several precedents in our favor that exceptions have been carved out of the Fair Housing Act," Knapp said.
Knapp said he believes following the BYU off-campus housing policy is not only economically smart but also the right thing to do.
"We are simply providing housing for all single students," Knapp said. The 1978 agreement lets owners rent not only to BYU students but also students at Utah Valley State College, Stevens Henegar and Provo College, he said.
Harker said BYU has several housing options, although he did not elaborate. The bottom line is that the university will maintain its off-campus housing policy, within the law, no matter what it takes, Harker said.