Opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act within American Christianity: A Wrong that Must End

People who read the title of this post may be led to think that I am anti-church, anti-Christianity. And I get that. It’s a title that may come across as directly attacking Christianity.

To the contrary, however, I believe that sometimes the best love is to offer honest, constructive criticism, especially when it comes to matters of justice.[1] In the case of ableism within American Christianity, I offer some constructive criticism: opposition to implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act from many in the American Church is wrong, and that opposition must end.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law twenty-nine years ago as of this Friday. It was arguably the most sweeping civil rights legislation since various African American civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s.

And yet, a key institution, a key group was excluded from the ADA: religious institutions.

Religious institutions as a whole are exempt from the ADA, but I should note that it seemed to be Christians who really took the lead in advocating against the inclusion of religious institutions in the legislation (hence, my focus on Christians in this post). The arguments from the (predominantly Christian) opponents at the time involved the money argument (that it would cost too much) and the “problem” involved with government “intruding” on religious institutions.[2]

Money is an understandable concern, as it costs money to make any building ADA-accessible. However, using money as an excuse to not support the ADA at all (and de facto to exclude a whole group of people from churches), as opposed to coming to an agreement that would implement the ADA at churches and other religious institutions in a way that makes the churches accessible without bankrupting the congregations, does give credence to Timothy’s argument that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10)—in this case, the evil being the exclusion of people from church spaces and the desire to hold on to money rather than spend it in order to make worship and fellowship spaces accessible to all being at the root of this evil.

I find it difficult to rationalize the “intrusion” argument—the argument that government forcing churches to comply with ADA would be too intrusive. It is wrongful that church institutions have in this case been more concerned about “intrusion” than the fact that the lack of it has literally kept people of various disabilities from going to church, and in many cases keeping people of various disabilities from becoming or staying Christian. I know people who have found themselves spiritually homeless, if not abandoning their faith, because we as a Church have often worried more about intrusion than about the fact that inaccessible churches keep people away from church.

Controversial as it may be for me to say this, religious institutions should not be exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, regardless of what the law is, individual church congregations should try to use the money and resources they do have to make their churches more accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. It is the right thing to do.


[1] Note that I am a Christian, so it is important for me (and other Christians who care about this issue) to give constructive criticism.

[2] https://sojo.net/articles/resisting-ableism-american-church

27 Replies to “Opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act within American Christianity: A Wrong that Must End”

    1. You’re welcome.

      It’s honestly something that I was not aware of until another friend told me about this. But it’s something we should be aware of.

      I should say, though, that embarrassing as this is, individual churches can still do a lot of work to bring their churches towards accessibility.

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      1. For sure, I so agree. Thanks for raising awareness on this issue. I once drove past a church with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign in the yard ! They were sending a message to snowmobilers, but the message looked really out of place for a Christian church. 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, Christians are sometimes ignorant to Satan’s devices, but dont get the tables confused about disabilities. The world tear up the church more than Christians at large in the city of Chicago. Stop coming into our churches creeping with our women, and lying to our pastors. Then, yaw lie through prepaid legal to say I made a mistake with the churches operations, oops you honor I have a disability, I must vindicate myself in the pulpit. However, am I supposed to acknowledge a persons disability, and step aside and let he or she preach the gospel like I do, nope, I dont think so! And then too, who is the person come off with a disability preaching in the pulpit, which any congregation or laypeople find quite upsetting…

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      1. Sure, it takes a while to explain my perspective, which is not religious propaganda. First of all, you lost me on a viewpoint in your opening about Christians and disability. What is your viewpoint about disabilities. Every Christian on earth has a different perspective about what a disability really is. I think alcoholism is disability that plagues the black church. But, you may think alcoholism is dystopian in the white church. But no matter, its still a disability according to APA. Get it?

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      2. What lost you about my viewpoint on disabilities? I’m curious.

        I tend to think of a disability is a condition of ant sort that limits one’s ability to function.

        Alcoholism crosses racial boundaries–it is not just something that plagues the black church. It plagues many, regardless of religion or race.

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  2. Brendan, I completely agree with you! I am a Christian, too, and in my experience, Christians (many of whom I love dearly) often oppose things that seem to be very Christ-like and loving things to do. So, I think your title is right on the money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Shelly.

      It has also been my experience to see Christians (many of whom I love dearly) oppose things that seem to be loving things to do. I don’t see it as Christ-like to exclude people on purpose, to advocate for excluding people, even. And yet, that was what happened when there were Christian lobbying groups that advocated for being exempt from the ADA (which allowed churches to not be accessible).

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  3. I thought to share some of my notes from my Introduction Special education class I took a while ago. I thought this can relate to what is written above.
    – American with Disability Act: Prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation services, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services in both the public and private sectors.
    Thus ADA is broader than the section 504 in that it extends nondiscrimination protecting to private employment. The only entities that may continue to discriminate against persons with disabilities are individuals in private acts, small employers for whom establishing accessibility would be excessively costly, and private clubs that do not permit general public access or membership.
    – Rehab Act section 504: Covers all agencies / organizations receiving federal funds. Passed in 1973. Vetoed twice by two presidents. Requires nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in employment, education, and other services in all programs receiving federal funds.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The US Constitution forbids the establishment of religion, and conversely protects religion from governmental interference.

    That is why churches,(and synagogues, mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples and other buildings used for religious services) are exempt.

    The argument that this is a financial matter is spurious.

    I have done publicly funded renovations on church assembly rooms to make them handicapped accessible to serve as soup kitchens and senior citizen centers whose scope had explicitly EXCLUDED the worship areas.

    The worship areas were excluded because of their overtly religious use.

    It is not difficult to imagine a bigoted building inspector or town board repeatedly finding a particular denonimation’s or religion’s building unacceptable in its handicapped accessible laws.

    Sometimes we just have to depend on people’s conscience to do the right thing without the government coercing them.

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    1. The problem, though, is that “people’s conscience” has led to people I know being kept from going to church, kept from serving in churches, kept from something as simple as going to the bathroom at their churches. Depending on peoples’ (churches’) conscience has often led to all sorts of horrid situations, including the sorts of situations I described early in this reply.

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    2. Also, regarding the Constitution, the First Amendment says that Congress should not pass a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Unless there is a religion that says that people with disabilities should be specifically excluded from worship, having some or all of the ADA apply to churches is not, in my assessment, prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

      Furthermore, I will add that the Declaration of Independence has three unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As the ability to practice one’s own religion is a source of liberty and happiness for many, having inaccessible churches goes against the spirit of those unalienable rights.

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  5. Hello there. This is good writing. I’m on the crossroads, and faith is something that either boggles or fascinates me. I am just new here in WordPress (2 weeks actually), and I also wrote about my mental health (or lack thereof) overlapping with my spirituality. Here it is: https://kloydecaday.wordpress.com/2019/07/27/anxiety-attack-on-a-sacred-time/

    Good job for supporting self-expression/mental health advocacy through writing. I appreciate it if we follow each other and keep on blogging. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Brenden. This is also my thinking, that loneliness and rage are often misunderstood, especially in a community obsessed with perfection. Thanks for letting me read it. I also follow you so I can get updates from your posts. Hope you do the same too!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I think you’re definitely right that loneliness and rage are misunderstood in Christian communities where people think there’s something wrong if you’re not completely happy.

        Thanks for following me!

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  6. I could not agree more with you. Churches should be taking the lead in supporting this and doing whatever it takes to make safe, accessible buildings to those who chose to come and worship. It is hard for me to understand why they would be against this and using the excuse of money is just sad. Especially when we see so many churches (not all) spending their money on salaries, mortgages, building expansions and the like rather than helping and support people like they should be doing. I would even go a step further, and even though this article is not about it, I do not believe churches should be tax exempt. Unfortunately, churches seem more like corporations and organizations rather than the living organism the Church was meant to be. Thanks for a good article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Churches should be taking the lead for accessibility. As a practicing Catholic, I believe that churches should be as much of a reflection of heaven on earth as humanly possible. But they aren’t accessible, in so many cases. We would often rather try to “evangelize” to some far away lands than make it easier for people in our own towns to go to church.

      I personally have mixed feelings about the tax exempt status of churches. But exemption from taxes should not be an exemption from doing the right thing.

      Like

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