(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) A California court has upheld a legal challenge brought against a homeowners’ association for an elderly community, after they forced residents to shut down their Bible studies and a Sunday worship service.
Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense organization, brought a lawsuit against Solera at Kern Canyon earlier this year. The retirement community is home to numerous interest groups like book clubs and a water aerobics team, according to PJI.
Residents formed a men’s Bible study ten years ago, and soon two different women’s Bible studies followed. In 2014 the same residents began to offer an informal worship service on Sundays for those who had difficulty with physically leaving the retirement community.
Those services quickly became the most popular weekly meeting in the community, with many from outside the retirement community attending. The worship service did not take offerings, and it was led by a retired pastor who did not receive a salary.
Late last year an anti-religious resident demanded the groups be shut down, claiming they were offensive. He even went so far as to suggest that the Romans should have “finished the Christians off while they had the chance,” according to PJI’s press release.
In response, the homeowner’s association Board ordered all four groups to stop meeting in the community’s clubhouse indefinitely. A resident then filed suit in late December, so the Board allowed the groups to resume meeting while it considered restrictions.
“The association, instead of getting qualified legal counsel, went ahead and quickly caved in and banned the usage of this senior citizens’ clubhouse for church services even though they allowed other groups to use the facility with no problem,” Brad Dacus, the president of PJI, told OneNewsNow.
PJI then joined the suit, claiming if other groups are permitted to meet on the retirement community’s property, religious ones cannot be denied.
At a hearing held last Thursday in Kern County Superior Court, the judge rejected four motions on behalf of the homeowner’s association and its Board of Directors to shield itself from the punitive damages of the lawsuit.
“We are encouraged that the court recognized the seriousness of the allegations in this suit,” Matt McReynolds, the PJI attorney who represented the groups’ leaders last week at the hearing, said. “While it is not our clients’ desire to punish or be vindictive toward anyone, they simply want to worship in peace, and they continue to face harassment and hostility unlike any other group in the community.”
PJI said they expect the next clash in the case to be over new draft rules and regulations that, if implemented, could allow the Board to shut down one or more of the four religious groups, giving them the authority to shut down any group they deem to be causing division or embarrassment.
“We’re seeking full injunctive relief to protect the right of senior citizens and these communities, who otherwise often can’t go to church on their own, to be able to worship and not be inhibited from doing so by a hostile homeowners association,” Dacus told OneNewsNow. “We cannot allow a heckler’s veto to be successful at the cost of religious freedom for others.”Click here for reuse options!
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