After a homeowners association banned Christians from holding Bible studies and other faith-based gatherings in common areas of a retirement community in California, attendees challenged and won the dispute to receive a settlement.
The Christian legal group, Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) – which specializes in religious freedom issues – argued that the Solera retirement community located at Kern Canyon in Bakersfield, California, violated the Bible study groups’ constitutional right to practice and exercise their Christian faith.
The Sacramento, California-based law firm recently confirmed a victory for the Christians against the association.
“[The court case] that tested the application of civil rights protections to Bible studies and a worship service in a senior community has been favorably resolved through a settlement,” PJI announced in a press release last week.
One atheist shuts down 100 Christians?
Approximately 100 attendees were prohibited from gathering together in their various faith-based meetings because one atheist had a problem with Christians congregating to worship and study God’s Word.
“A single complaint from an atheist prompted the association to ban all faith groups from using the commons area,” WND reported. “There were about 100 weekly attendees at four different meetings over the week, with a Sunday worship, a men’s Bible study and two women’s groups.”
Even though the groups were banned nearly two years ago from meeting together for about a month before Christmas, they were permitted to gather again after one attendee decided to take legal action against the homeowners association.
“After the Bible studies and worship service were suspended just before Thanksgiving of 2016, one attendee of the worship service and men’s Bible studies filed suit, and the suspension was lifted at the end of that year,” WND recounted.
Despite the suspension of the Bible study and worship service ban as a result of the lawsuit, the homeowners association still contended that it had the legal power to shut the Christian gatherings down.
“[The California association] continued to insist that it had done nothing wrong and possessed the authority to suspend the groups again at any time, so litigation continued throughout 2017 and early 2018,” PJI recounted.
Arguing that the homeowners association was violating the Christian attendees’ free speech rights – linked back to those guaranteed by the United States Constitution – PJI attorneys were quick to represent the attendees of the faith-based meetings.
“The legal group intervened on behalf of the leadership of the Bible studies and worship service, arguing that the association owed residents obligations similar to the First Amendment under the state’s civil rights laws,” WND explained.
Facing the facts … and the law
Once the homeowners association over the retirement community further examined the rights of Christian members of the community to attend the meetings before the legal proceedings took place, it conceded by surrendering its assault on the attendees right to practice their faith on the community’s common grounds.
“[The] trial was scheduled for mid-May, but when a preparatory mediation meeting was held, the homeowner’s association agreed to a number of concessions that will protect the seniors’ religious rights going forward,” WND informed. “When the settlement was finalized, the residents filed for dismissal of their case and were designated in the settlement as the prevailing parties.”
Christians no longer blue in California
PJI President Brad Dacus was ecstatic that a new victorious trend for religious freedom could now be underway after the homeowners association backed out of the lawsuit.
“We are thrilled with this tremendous victory on behalf of these courageous senior citizens!” Dacus exclaimed. “This may be the first time a group of residents have taken on their HOA in court to fight for their religious meeting rights – and won.”
Praise was given to the elderly Christian attendees by the attorney who spearheaded the group’s litigation against the association, PJI attorney Matthew McReynolds.
“Throughout this case, their faith and dedication have inspired us,” McReynolds shared. “They are overcoming physical challenges and disabilities to spread the light in their community, and we couldn’t have been more proud to represent them.”
The atypical victory in the deep-blue state of California was made possible last year when a judge decided to hear the strongly backed Christians’ case, instead of throwing it out – as it was prompted to do by the homeowners association that followed up on the atheist’s complaint demanding that the Bible study studies must be shut down.
“In 2017 … a judge refused to dismiss the Christians’ complaint and request for punitive damages from the board of the Bakersfield community,” WND noted, as pointed out in a separate WND report in 2017. “The lawsuit alleged violations of the board’s fiduciary duties, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the fair employment and Housing Act, along with intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligence.”