A legally blind Georgia woman says she was banished to the back pew of a church — where she couldn’t see the pastor or the choir — all because of her service dog.
As WFMY-TV (Greensboro) reports, Cynthia Coleman, 58, is legally blind. She has no vision in her right eye and no peripheral vision in her left eye. Like many blind people, she has a service dog, in this case Hook, whom she’s had for three years.
Coleman has been in the market for a new church, so she found one that interested her. She even called the church, which the media is not naming, beforehand to ask if it was OK to bring Hook. She says she was told both she and her dog would be welcome.
And welcome her they did – at first. She showed up one recent Sunday morning and took a seat near the front so that she could see the pastor and the choir. However, not long after she’d been seated, she says she was approached “aggressively” by some deacons, who told her to take her dog to the back.
“I explained to them that if I sat in the back pew then it was just really not an option because I wouldn’t be able to see. I could only hear.”
“They just left me no choice. It was like, ‘either you move to that back pew or you leave their church.’”
So was the church acting legally in discriminating against Coleman the way she alleges that they did? There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Federal civil rights laws prohibit businesses from discriminating against customers and employers from discriminating against people with disabilities, require “reasonable accommodation,” and so on. But, churches and religious entities are exempt from some of those laws. Long story short, it would take a court decision to sort this all out, and Coleman isn’t interested in suing.
The church’s officials, for their part, declined to comment publicly on the matter. However, Coleman believes that the church was simply unaware of how Hook would react in the church.
Rather than make a spectacle of the church, she simply says that she hopes they’ll learn to practice what they preach.
“Get Jesus in the church. Get on the Internet. Learn. Because other people might come to your church that have service dogs and I pray that you would not treat them in this way.”
Do you believe the church that Ms. Coleman tried to attend with her service dog was right in asking her to move to a back pew? Is your church sensistive to people with disabilities? Share your thoughts in the comments below.