Bakersfield, CA — The latest move by a homeowners’ association in its efforts to curb religious activity by senior citizens is raising eyebrows and landing the HOA back in court.
Late last year, the HOA of Solera at Kern Canyon, a retirement community in Bakersfield, suspended three Bible studies and a Sunday worship service following a complaint by an atheist. After one of the believers filed suit just before Christmas, the HOA Board reluctantly allowed the four groups to resume meeting in the community clubhouse while the Board considered additional restrictions.
After months of secretive deliberations, the Board voted on June 26 to approve new restrictions on interest groups. One provision aimed at the believers is a prohibition on similar groups. Over the last several years, a men’s Bible study, two women’s Bible studies and a Sunday worship service have formed as interest in the groups has grown. Despite repeated requests for clarification from Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the leadership of the four groups, the HOA’s attorneys have refused to say which of the groups will be eliminated under the new plan.
Even more alarming to the believers is a provision in the new rules that gives the HOA Board authority to revoke any group deemed to be causing an “undesirable” or “embarrassing situation.” Although the Sunday worship is the best-attended weekly event held in the clubhouse, and the four groups average about 100 attendees each week, some residents have taken exception to the groups’ resort to court after they were abruptly suspended last year. An anonymous letter posted in the community called the believers “church fanatics” and “a disgrace,” giving the HOA a basis for suspending them again at any time.
After the HOA’s attorneys would not agree that the “undesirable” and “embarrassing’ exclusion was unenforceable, PJI attorneys filed a 68-page Motion for Preliminary Injunction and supporting documents this week to ensure the Bible studies and worship service can continue.
Brad Dacus, president of PJI, commented, “It is a privilege to represent these senior saints who are living their lives to the fullest. They simply seek to make available worship and Bible studies to those with limited mobility who rarely venture outside their retirement community.”
Matthew McReynolds, the senior staff attorney at PJI who filed the motion, added, “It is surprising that, with such strong anti-discrimination laws on the books, this HOA thinks it can continue a campaign of harassment and hostility toward senior citizens who simply want to worship and seek God in peace. No one can be deemed undesirable and excluded from a community based on their faith or any other protected status.”
The hearing is scheduled for August 7 in Kern County Superior Court.