Bakersfield, CA—A court has rejected the latest attempt by a homeowners’ association to shield itself from punitive damages for shutting down Bible studies and a Sunday worship service.
Like many retirement communities, Solera at Kern Canyon has a central clubhouse
and recreation facilities where numerous interest groups like book clubs and
water aerobics meet. About ten years ago, several members of the
community began meeting together on Tuesday mornings for a men’s
Bible study. Two different women’s Bible studies were later formed.
In 2014, some of the men felt a need to serve physically challenged residents
who have difficulty leaving the community by offering informal worship on
Sundays. The Sunday services quickly became the best attended weekly
event held at the clubhouse. Participants come from a wide variety of
denominational backgrounds, and it is not a formal church. Unlike most
churches, no offering is taken, and the retired pastor who does most of the
preaching does not receive a salary.
Late last year, an anti-religious resident who does not attend any of the
groups demanded that they cease. Among other invectives, it was suggested
the Romans should have finished off the Christians while they had the chance.
In response, the HOA Board just before Thanksgiving ordered all four
groups to stop meeting in the clubhouse indefinitely. After one resident
filed suit in late December and an injunction hearing was scheduled, the Board
reluctantly allowed the groups to resume meeting while it considered further
restrictions. Leaders of the religious groups are now regularly denounced
at the HOA Board meetings and they receive numerous harassing phone calls.
Pacific Justice Institute joined the suit earlier this year representing the
leadership of the four groups. At a hearing held last Thursday in Kern
County Superior Court, the judge denied four motions on behalf of the
homeowners’ association, its Board of Directors and its general manager to
strike the punitive damages. The court observed that the allegations, if
proved, would be akin to racism and other forms of civil rights violations
justifying punitive damages.
Matt McReynolds, the PJI attorney who represented the groups’ leaders last week
at the hearing, noted, “We are encouraged that the court recognized the
seriousness of the allegations in this suit. While it is not our clients’
desire to punish or be vindictive toward anyone, they simply want to worship in
peace, and they continue to face harassment and hostility unlike any other group
in the community. We look forward to moving ahead with this case on their
Brad Dacus, the president of PJI and frequent FOT guest, noted, “It is an honor
and privilege to represent senior saints who are using their retirement years
to pursue God and serve their neighbors.”
The next clash in the case is expected over new draft rules and regulations
that, if implemented, could eliminate one or more of the four religious groups
and give the HOA Board authority to shut down any group deemed by the HOA Board
to be causing division or embarrassment.