The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was originally passed in 1990 with the intention of ensuring Americans with disabilities have access to the public accommodations that everyone else enjoys. The law does this by requiring employers, government agencies, and anyone who provides goods and services to the public to make reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. However, there are two kinds of entities that are broadly exempted from these requirements: private clubs and religious organizations.
Put simply, this means that many religious organizations, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as any charities or schools they may run, are exempt from the requirements of the ADA. They do not, legally speaking, need to make any reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities, whether they are employees, worshipers, students, or even customers. They do not need to provide wheelchair access or handicap parking, listening devices for the hearing impaired, or any other accommodations that are commonplace for any other kind of business.
On the one hand, this is potentially good for many religious organizations which may already have a tight budget, even before considering accommodations for people with disabilities. On the other hand, not every organization that may want to claim a religious exemption from the ADA may get it. And if an entity does try to claim a religious exemption to the ADA and does not to qualify for it, it could wind up with serious legal and financial liabilities.
Also, even if ADA compliance isn’t mandatory, there are advantages to religious organizations making their facilities easier to access for people with disabilities. Any staff or worshipers with disabilities, for example, will be thankful for making their lives easier. It’s also beneficial to the community at large to make the religious organization’s services available to all, and not just those with relatively healthy bodies and minds.
The rules governing religious organizations can often be complex. The non-profit law attorneys at Wingate, Kearney, & Cullen, LLP have offices in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. The firm is experienced in incorporating religious organizations and can guide you on how to remain compliant with the law. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (718) 852-5900 or fill out our contact form.