New Year Brings New Freedom For Religious Group Banned From Senior Community During Christmas
Bakersfield, CA–A group of senior citizens are relieved but remain wary after their homeowners association (HOA) reversed course and lifted a ban on their meetings.
The groups, consisting of a Sunday worship service and three weekly Bible studies, had been meeting for a few years at the clubhouse of Solera at Kern Canyon, a senior community in Bakersfield. Numerous other groups and clubs utilize the clubhouse on a regular basis, spanning a wide range of interests. Just before Thanksgiving, the HOA Board abruptly suspended all four of the religious gatherings, citing a legal threat from a resident who is an attorney. More than 30 residents appealed the decision, but the Board rejected their concerns in mid-December. As a result, the worship services were denied clubhouse space throughout the Christmas season.
Bakersfield attorney Doug Gosling filed suit December 22 on behalf of Solera resident Gerald Brister, who attended the religious meetings. The court denied an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order on December 23 but scheduled a more complete evidentiary hearing for January 9.
Late Friday, December 30, the HOA Board reversed course and voted to allow the religious meetings to resume, at least temporarily, while the Board considers other rules and potential restrictions on the gatherings. Gosling explained that, while this move means the Jan. 9 hearing will no longer be needed, the lawsuit will move ahead to ensure that residents’ legal rights are respected long term.
Pacific Justice Institute represents and has been advising several other Solera residents, including Burnie McLain who filed the first informal appeal of the HOA Board decision, and Gene Thurman, who started the religious gatherings a few years ago. Matthew McReynolds, a PJI attorney who warned the HOA Board that it was violating state civil rights laws by suspending the meetings, commented, “We’re encouraged that worship and Bible studies can resume at Solera, but we will stay involved to ensure this is more than a temporary fix. Religious freedom cannot depend on the whims of a few community leaders or activists.”
Brad Dacus, the president of PJI, noted, “This is the latest example of community leaders trying to say there is no room for the Christ of Christmas. Our senior citizens have given so much to this country, and many fought to preserve our freedoms. The least we can do is allow them to worship in peace.”