Jan. 26, 2006
A summary prepared by Carolyn Doppelt Gray in consultation with Scott Aaron.
Excerpt from “Liheyot: Access to Judaism”
Sponsored by the UAHC Liheyot Advisory Committee and Commission on Social Action in Reform Judaism
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. This sweeping civil rights law provides a national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public transportation, public accommodations and telecommunications.
Disability is defined by the ADA as: (a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual (i.e. walking, speaking, seeing); (b) a record of such impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment. As with the general public, 17% of congregational members are people with disabilities. These disabilities include, but are not limited to: mental illness, diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, AIDS/HIV, arthritis, mental retardation.
A religious entity is defined under the ADA as a “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society”: thus, UAHC member’s congregations, camps, Temple offices and other facilities are within the ADA definition.
Generally, religious entities must conform to the ADA provisions; there are notable exceptions:
General rule: Title 1 of the ADA provides that no covered entity (including a religious entity) shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the individual’s disability in regard to employment procedures, including job application, interviewing, hiring, benefits, promotions, job training, etc.
-- A religious organization may give preference in employment to people of a particular religion.
-- A religious organization may require that all applicants and employees conform to the religious tenets of such organization.
In particular terms, a Temple could require that an applicant for a position be Jewish, but the Temple must consider a qualified Jew with a disability on the same basis as a qualified Jew without a disability. In regard to religious tenets, the Temple could require that all administrative employees leave their office and work at the Temple by 4:30 p.m. each Friday.
General rule: Religious organizations or entities, including places of worship, are exempt from any Title III public accommodations requirements of the ADA. Even when a religious entity carries out activities that would otherwise make it a public accommodation (for example, a restaurant, a place of lodging, a theater, a library) the religious entity is exempt from ADA coverage.
This means that if a Jewish entity operates a nursing home, day school, child care facility, summer camp, the operations of the nursing home, day school, child care facility, summer camp are not subject to ADA’s public accommodations requirements. This includes religious institutions led by lay boards, which includes most Jewish communal service institutions. The test is whether the religious entity controls the public accommodation, not who receives the service. On the other hand, a facility operating as a profit-making, non-charitable institution does not qualify for the religious exemption even if the primary client base is Jewish or it advertises its services as serving the Jewish community.
Exception to the Exemption: If a religious entity leases space to a non-religious organization that operates a public accommodation (e.g. a day care facility) the tenant must comply with the ADA. For this exemption to apply to the tenant there must be a lease with consideration paid to the religious entity. In this case, the secular day care operation must comply with the ADA because the tenant is not a religious entity nor controlled by a religious entity.
Further, if a service organization (e.g. a Temple-sponsored homeless shelter) operates with the assistance of federal money, the shelter will be required to be accessible to people with disabilities under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by entities receiving federal assistance.
It is wise in this situation to seek counsel because what should be accessible and where barrier removal should occur depends on the type of service offered (i.e. health care, housing, job training).
Likewise, if a Temple-sponsored service organization operates under contract with a state or local government agency, the organization may not deny the benefits of its program, activity and services to people with disabilities because its facilities are inaccessible.
Barriers are not required to be removed from each facility and physical changes to a building are only required when there is no other feasible way to make the program accessible. Because this situation depends on the particular fact of the case, this is another area where it is wise to seek counsel before making accessibility decisions.
It is recommended that congregations and affiliates consult local organizations representing persons with disabilities, knowledgeable architects and attorneys.