“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Religious liberty

On the Fourth of July, it makes sense to talk about liberty. In this case religious liberty. Let me share a brief experience and then tell you what I have been doing to better understand the situation and its potential ramifications.

There were about 8 residents of two group homes for adults with cognitive disabities who were attending my church. Specifically there were 3 women and 5 men along with a group home worker who were attending. We were enjoying getting to know each other through the activities of the church on Sunday mornings. Somewhat suddenly, they stopped attending the church. After making several attempts to contact the group home which received no response, we finally got into contact with the woman who had been bringing the adults to church. She related that she had been fired for very non serious infractions (according to her telling) and that the folks were no longer permitted to go to church. We got the impression that they were no longer permitted to attend because of the nonreligious proclivities of the group home owner.

Since then, I have been in contact with a variety of people/agencies to get an understanding of the religious rights of persons with cognitive disabilities living in group homes. Several experts in religious/disability although helpful, didn't have a lot to offer in terms of resources. The Dept. of Justice wrote me a letter which implied that rights might be curtailed depending upon who funds the group home. A legal aid group indicated that parents or conservators might restrict the religious liberty of these adults. In California, religious liberty is guaranteed under Title 17 of the California code of regulations which states, (4) A right to religious freedom and practice, including the right to attend services or to refuse attendance, to participate in worship or not to participate in worship.
In speaking with a client advocacy group, I was informed that no one can refuse religious liberty whether conservator, parent, etc.

The critical factor then becomes access. How does one determine the choice of a cognitively disabled adult living in a group home? Group home providers may restrict access on the basis of their own attitudes toward religious activity. The rights of others living in the home might also come into play. I am confident that those who are funded by the state are very gun shy when it comes to anything related to church and state, and have perhaps overly restricted access in some cases. I continue to try to do research in this area.

There is case law related to group home owners attempting to proselytize those living in the homes which says that such pressure is inappropriate. I would suspect it is illegal to proselytize for or against religious faith. One must wonder, however, about the procedures necessary to provide choice to someone in this area.

As discussed elsewhere in this blog and on my website (see, A Discussion of Networks Supporting Adults with Disabilities in the Community on my website) I am confident that the local church is the answer to community integration of persons with cognitive disabilities and will one day prove to be so. However, an important step in the mean time is access to persons living in group homes, and assisting adults with cognitive disabilities to express choice in this area.

I would appreciate any insight, ideas, resouces readers of this blog may have come across relative to this issue. Please send them along to me at mail@jeffmcnair.com


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