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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Staver: Feds Need to Address Religious Discrimination in Nursing Homes at Christmastime

Allie Martin and Jody Brown

(AgapePress) - The president of Liberty Counsel says the federal government should issue guidelines designed to prevent religious discrimination in nursing homes and assisted living centers during the Christmas season.

Senior citizens in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts will now be able to celebrate Christmas, thanks to the intervention of Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based law firm that specializes in religious liberties. Officials at senior citizens' centers in three communities -- Winter Park, Florida; Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; and Melrose, Massachusetts -- had placed restrictions on Christmas programs or displays. In the Winter Park case, for example, residents of an assisted living center were told neither they nor outside groups could sing Christmas carols.

But in all three cases, those policies were reversed after Liberty Counsel interceded. While pleased with those outcomes, the firm's president and general counsel, Mat Staver, says there are numerous similar cases pending nationwide. "To see the elderly deprived of the joy of Christmas breaks my heart," says Staver, whose 88-year-old mother now lives with his family after having spent several months in an assisted living facility.

"Sometimes what we see [in these facilities] is our most vulnerable citizens being discriminated against, and the joy of Christmas being robbed from them," he says.

Staver says it is time for the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development to let assisted living centers and nursing homes know that religious discrimination is unconstitutional. He is calling on the federal government to issue Christmas guidelines to prevent that from happening.

"I think there is a chance that the government will issue these guidelines," the attorney shares. "We've already been in contact with the Department of Justice, who has been in contact with HUD as a result of these situations, and I think there will be some movement -- especially after what we've seen this year -- for these guidelines to be issued."

Such federal guidelines, he says, would be very straightforward. "Any federally subsidized facility that houses seniors or persons with disabilities would have access to these guidelines so that this kind of discriminatory action would not occur again," says the Liberty Counsel president.

According to a press statement from Liberty Counsel, residents at both the Pennsylvania and Massachusetts care facilities were subjected to policies and directives that prohibited the display of religious decorations such as Nativity scenes, menorahs, and crosses. At Bethany Towers in Mechanicsburg, says the statement, even angels were removed from a Christmas tree that had been erected in a common area.

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