An 84-year-old veteran's widow is being threatened with eviction from the California Veterans Home if she continues to host Bible studies for fellow residents, according to the Pacific Justice Institute.
The Institute — a legal outfit that defends religious freedom — said it received a March 1 email from an attorney with the California Department of Veterans Affairs saying Artis Breau's Bible studies violate prior directives and would result in her "involuntary discharge" from the Home in Yountville if they continued.
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PJI added that the "Home claims it needs to protect residents from this elderly widow, even though attendance at her Bible studies is entirely voluntary" and that Breau said the "real issue is that she is an evangelical Jewish believer in Jesus, which does not sit well with some of the chaplains."
What's the background, according to PJI?
The Institute said Breau and her late husband moved to the Veterans Home about nine years ago and that he served as a Merchant Marine in World War II, as well as overseas in the 82nd Airborne Division and with the Air Force during the Korean War. Breau worked as a civilian employee in the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army at the Pentagon during the Korean War, PJI said.
At the Home, Breau has volunteered with the chaplaincy program and led Bible studies, and the Institute noted that trouble began for her with officials last September over a claim that "a discussion between herself and another resident about heaven and hell had allegedly caused him to lose sleep and therefore was elder abuse, emotional abuse, and otherwise illegal."
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In mid-December, the Home notified Artis that her volunteer status was being suspended indefinitely due to the ongoing investigation. Nearly three months later, CalVet has yet to schedule an interview with Artis about the alleged complaint; yet she remains barred from volunteering in any official role. However, until this past week she had been permitted to continue leading Bible studies for some of the Home's most elderly and mobility-challenged residents—many of whom cannot get to chapel services.
And then PJI said it received the March 1 email from the CalVet attorney threatening Breau with eviction unless the Bible studies stopped.
How did the Pacific Justice Institute respond?
PJI said it sent a "strongly-worded response to the State on Friday and is weighing all legal options."
Matthew McReynolds, a PJI attorney who's been representing Breau, said that "CalVet's treatment of this widow is shameful. Throughout this process, we have been deeply disturbed not only by the lack of constitutional guidelines, ineptitude, and lack of due process in the investigation, but even more by the notion that discussing religious views on the eternal state of the soul is somehow elder abuse or emotional abuse. Our client's husband fought for his country to preserve the freedoms now being threatened by CalVet. Our veterans deserve better."
Brad Dacus, PJI president, was equally outraged.
"This shocking attack from the State against our client's exercise of religious convictions is deeply disturbing," Dacus said. "The State seeks to punish Artis based on non-existent directives, and deprive her of a personal ministry to the veterans who have benefited from her religious services for years. Artis isn't fighting just for herself, but for the Gospel and for the residents who are unable to fight for themselves against the State's attempted intimidation."
How did CalVet respond?
"The safety, security, and well-being of all of our residents is our top priority," Lindsey Sin, deputy secretary of Women Veterans Affairs at CalVet, said in a statement to Fox News. "We are very proud of the religious services provided to all of our residents through our chaplaincy services. This investigation concerns the private conduct of an individual. Beyond that, we are unable to comment on an ongoing investigation."
Not the first time
This isn't by any stretch the first instance in which Bible studies have come under fire in residential communities. Just last year, for example:
- A semi-retired Lutheran pastor and his wife allegedly were ordered by their residential complex to stop holding Bible studies in their private apartment or face eviction. The apparent reason was because the apartment complex defines "Bible study" as a "business" — and one that's prohibited from taking place in private residential units.
- A Florida woman who had been holding Bible studies in the common area of her condominium complex said officials there suddenly decided to ban "prayers and other religious services, observations, or meetings of any nature" in common areas.