Christians who were banned by a homeowners association from holding Bible studies or other faith-related meetings in the common areas of a California retirement community are getting a settlement after they prevailed in the dispute.
The Pacific Justice Institute confirmed 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.”
Terms were not released immediately.
The case developed at the retirement community known as Solera at Kern Canyon in Bakersfield.
A single complaint from an atheist prompted the association to ban all faith groups from using the commons area.
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.
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.
The association, however, “continued to insist that it had done nothing wrong and possessed the authority to suspend the groups again at anytime, so litigation continued throughout 2017 and early 2018,” Pacific Justice said.
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.
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.
When the settlement was finalized, the residents filed for dismissal of their case and were designated in the settlement as the prevailing parties.
“We are thrilled with this tremendous victory on behalf of these courageous senior citizens. 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,” said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice.
Matthew McReynolds, the PJI attorney who led the group’s litigation, added: “Throughout this case, their faith and dedication have inspired us. 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.”
WND reported in 2017 when a judge refused to dismiss the Christians’ complaint and request for punitive damages from the board of the Bakersfield community.
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.