Forced Church Visits in California Pass Muster
(CN) - Religious rights are not trampled in forcing caregivers for the developmentally disabled to attend worship services with their clients, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
In 2009, the San Gabriel/Pomona Regional Center held a meeting to discuss behavioral issues with a client, C.W., of the Payne Care Center, a six-bed residential community care facilities licensed by the California Department of Social Services.
It came out at the meeting that C.W. wanted to attend Jehovah's Witness worship services, and California later informed Payne that it was obligated both to provide an opportunity for C.W. to attend the church of his choice and to have one of its workers personally accompany him to the services because his disability makes him unable to attend without direct staff assistance.
Since Payne did not force its staff to attend worship services with C.W., however, it was cited for violating its obligations to a client.
Payne, its owner and several employees soon suit, alleging that the state trampled their constitutional rights in requiring employees to attend services for a faith not their own.
"Two [Payne Care Center] employees are Catholic and maintain that their Catholic faith restricts them from attending any other religious service unless that service is a wedding or funeral, and another [Payne Care Center] employee refuses to attend or participate in any religious service," the complaint states.
Chief U.S. District Judge George King in Los Angeles dismissed the action, however, and the 9th Circuit affirmed Tuesday, adopting the lower court's "thoughtful and legally correct" ruling against the care center as its own.
"The primary effect of the regulations at issue is not to inhibit religion insofar as plaintiffs allege that it requires them to engage in conduct in contravention of their own religious beliefs and practices," King wrote. "As noted above, the regulations do not require plaintiffs to adopt any particular religious beliefs or to worship, engage in prayer, or otherwise participate in any religious services. Insofar as the regulations require plaintiffs to merely be present at Jehovah's Witness services, and thus inhibit their own practice of religion because that is something that their religion allegedly prohibits, we cannot say that this is the 'primary effect' of the regulations.'"
State funds do not go to any religious institution, but instead to private vendors for services provided to care for developmentally disabled clients, the court found.
"The regulations at issue do not require any interaction between the church and state for enforcement of statutory or administrative standards, and thus do not result in an unconstitutional relationship between the Government and religious activity," King wrote.