"Sure, you have the right to religious freedom, but I am not taking your to church." Or as I have heard recently, "We are taking a break from church." How can someone who is responsible for the lives of persons with disabilities in a residential setting say to people who have been expressing religious faith by the attendance at a church, "We are taking a break from church?" I am about to press the issue with a particular home, but it indicates the depth of the problem. People can be attending church for a long time (in this case, probably 10 years) and suddenly have that opportunity taken away from them on a whim by their "care providers." Where is the state protecting their religious freedom? Do their agency workers even know that they attend church? If community integration really was a desire of human service workers, be they the directors of a group home or those who monitor the group homes, or those who are the social workers for the persons living in the group home, they would want to know whether those who have chosen to attend church are actually doing so. That they don't know or care is a part of the problem.
Those who run homes have pervasive power over the lives of those who live in the homes. I don't believe this is how the system was meant to be. If it was meant to be this way then it needs to change, and change dramatically. I have seen the individuals who are hired as group home "parents" and not all are great people. I remember one home where several women lived, where the man who was the "parent" would at times show up at the front door in his boxer shorts. Yet these are the people who are making decisions about what a person living in a group home may or may not do.
But thinking again about religious freedom, if you have such freedom, but are never given the opportunity to attend a religious group, never have the opportunity to meet people who attend religious groups, never have the opportunity to hear or learn about religion, then you truly do not have religious freedom. In reality, you are largely trapped as the person who exited school and entered the home by the plan that was developed for you at that time. How many of you who are reading this blog are the same person you were when you exited High School? In these plans, there seems to be little expectation for human growth and change. How many of you have not explored other ideas which have influenced the way you are as more mature adults today? Additionally, the life of a student in public school, even if in special education classes, is much different than that of a disabled adult in the disability care system. In school there was at least the possibility that you would see nondisabled peers. Chances are the increased time you spent with your family would allow you access to people with whom you could be integrated. However, the adult service system is almost entirely cut off from community integration, relegating people to a segregated existence with those who are paid to be with them. Unfortunately, I think that is how people in human services want it to be because it is easier for them. I think too many group home providers would prefer to not have community members in the lives of their residents because they bring the dangerous ideas of autonomy and rights, and the things that cause a person to have a real life.
If we truly believe that those whose lives are regulated by people who are regulated by agencies deserve rights and freedoms, then we must provide opportunities for them to exercise those rights.
Otherwise, as Zola states, rights are truly meaningless.