Religious hospitals get a lot of press for denying healthcare to LBGTQ folks and the like, but a lesser known problem is that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act includes this language:
The provisions of [Title III] shall not apply to … religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations, including places of worship. 42 U.S.C. § 12187
So, yknow, churches can be as inaccessible as they want and can’t be challenged under Title III of the ADA. Fine. Well, not fine, but we’re stuck with it. But religious-themed hospitals are big business, and dominate the healthcare landscape. Then they do this — to a psychiatric patient who used a Dynavox to communicate — and claim immunity as a religious organization:
[The patient, Linda Reed] claims that she was denied the use of her Dynavox; that hospital staff attempted to give her medication she was allergic to; that she was denied timely access to her medical records; that she was denied the use of a telephone to call her case manager (about whom the record reveals little); that she was denied access to a chaplain; and that she was physically escorted off the premises by two security guards. Notably, the hospital’s corporate representative and nursing supervisor, William Fry, testified in his deposition that the Dynavox was locked up outside Reed’s room at night and that she had access to it during the day only “as long as her behavior was appropriate.”
Reed v. Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, No. 17-1469, 2019 WL 494073, at *1 (7th Cir. Feb. 8, 2019) (emphasis added).* Read that again: she was only ALLOWED TO COMMUNICATE if her “behavior was appropriate,” apparently as assessed by Nurse Ratched.
The hospital in question was Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, now named “Ascension.” It claimed, in seeking immunity, that it “will not perform medical procedures inconsistent with Catholic ethical directives.” Id. at *6. So I guess denying communication access — including communication with a chaplain — is fully consistent with Ascension’s Catholic ethical directives.
The Seventh Circuit denied the claim of religious immunity, but only because the hospital forgot to plead it. The court “express[ed] no opinion on whether … the hospital might fit within the exemption for entities controlled by religious organizations.” Id. That is, if its lawyers hadn’t been so sloppy, the hospital might have been able to confiscate and control the patient’s only way to communicate, and gotten away with it . . . in the name of Christ.
*I wanted to write “emphasis added, motherfucker” but didn’t find that in the Blue Book.