Michigan civil rights agency condemns 'no foreigners' sign

MASON, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has opened a complaint against a man whose front-yard sign advertising the sale of his home indicates he won't sell to foreigners.

The sign in front of Iraq veteran James Prater's home in Mason says "Terms No foreigners Iraq vet" next to "For Sale by Owner."

The civil rights department says the sign violates state and federal laws against discrimination based on national origin.

"When an ad like this goes unchallenged, it sends a message to the community that such ads are legal and accepted," Civil Rights Director Agustin V. Arbulu said.

Arbulu said the sign can wrongly encourage others to use similar discriminating language.

"The perception that a community accepts discrimination of this sort discourages potential purchasers from considering other properties in the area," he said.

Department spokeswoman Vicki Levengood said the agency filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Lansing State Journal reported Friday. The state has an agreement with HUD to investigate some complaints of housing discrimination.

Prater, whose house has been on sale for about a month with no price tag, said in a previous interview he hasn't discriminated against anyone because he's had no offers. He said his idea of a foreigner may not be what someone expects, but that those pointing to the U.S. as a nation of immigrants should focus more on citizenship.

Nancy Knupfer of Lansing said last week that a photo of the sign has been circulating online and that while Prater deserves thanks as a former Army sergeant, that doesn't allow him the right to discriminate against immigrants.

"Let's uphold the laws of this country, and realize we're a multicultural society and we need to be ... welcoming to people, no matter what racial background, no matter what country they are from," Knupfer said.

State officials said that while there are exemptions in the Fair Housing Act for private sales of property by individuals, discriminatory advertising isn't exempt under any circumstances. Separate from the federal law, the state Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act also prohibits discrimination based on national origin.

Deputy director Carol Viventi said that remedies vary but may include "training and/or monetary penalties."

A message sent by The Associated Press on Friday seeking comment from a lawyer for Prater was not immediately returned.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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