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Florida pastor sues a city over disability discrimination claims

Does a city’s refusal to allow the opening of a residential-based prison diversion program designed for recovering alcohol and substance addicts violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act? That’s exactly what a Bunnell, Florida, pastor is claiming and he has filed a lawsuit against Bunnell to have the controversy resolved legally. The pastor is seeking permission to establish his Open Door Re-entry and Recovery Ministry in a residential home located at 309 East Booe Street in Bunnell.

According to incorporation papers filed in Florida, Open Door is a Christ-centered residential-based ministry helping people with substance addiction and other issues. The program relies on “biblical truths” to enhance rehabilitation and build the life skills necessary to help addicts transition back into their communities and families.

The suit, which claims Bunnell violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) anti-discrimination laws, argues that potential residents of Open Door qualify as disabled or handicapped. Through the suit, the pastor is seeking an injunction to prevent the city from discriminating against the residential program as well as for any applicable damages, according to the court papers.

While the pastor says that establishing a residential-based location is crucial to recovery efforts, at least one resident flatly expressed that she loved the program but does not want it in her neighborhood. On the other side of the coin, Flagler County Sheriff expressed his general support of any community-based programs to keep people out of jail. According to the news report, public opinion about the residential facility is mixed with some expressing disapproval and some prepared to support the pastor’s efforts.

Not all disability discrimination is simple and straight-forward, and even though this case does not involve discrimination by an employer or business, it reveals what is most important: that all citizens with any kind of disability deserve the same fair and balanced treatment we all want. Working with a qualified legal team is one such way to make sure the rights of all Americans with disabilities remain protected.

Source: The Dayton Beach News Journal, “Reverend sues Bunnell over plans for recovery house” Aaron London, Apr. 25, 2014

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