By KIM HORNER / The Dallas Morning News
The elderly residents at Audelia Manor had their prayers answered: Once again, they will be free to attend Sunday church services at their public housing complex.
On Thursday, the Dallas Housing Authority reversed its decision to order Lake Highlands United Methodist Church to stop holding services at the federally funded northeast Dallas complex.
Just a day earlier, MaryAnn Russ, president and chief executive officer of the agency, said that holding the services was a violation of DHA’s contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds public housing programs. She cited a violation of church-state separation required by the U.S. Constitution.
But a HUD spokesman reiterated Thursday that the Dallas agency misinterpreted federal guidelines.
The reversal was made official Thursday afternoon during a meeting involving the church, DHA and Dallas City Council member Jerry Allen, who represents the district where the Lake Highlands church is located.
“We’re very, very excited,” said the Rev. Pamela Clark, the church’s associate pastor and director of off-campus ministries.
She said services will resume Sunday for the residents, many of whom cannot leave home easily.
“Hopefully we’ll be shouting and singing even greater than ever because we do have religious freedom in this country,” Clark said.
On Feb. 16, the DHA sent the church a letter saying it had to stop holding worship services immediately.
After Thursday’s decision, Russ said the federal guidelines were “moderately squishy” and that the agency’s agreements with faith-based organizations were outdated.
DHA is entering new agreements with those organizations to clarify what activities are allowed, she said.
The support for the church services even extended to Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, sent a letter to the DHA on Thursday asking the agency to reverse the decision after receiving concerns from constituents.
“The Dallas Housing Authority erred in attempting to restrict those services, and I am grateful that in the last few hours, after meeting with church leaders and reviewing the federal policy, they have reversed that decision,” Hensarling said in a prepared statement.
“While some may dismiss this as a small encroachment, increasing government restrictions of the mention of His very existence are undoubtedly threats to our liberty.”