Thursday, November 21, 2019

California Denied Preliminary Injunction In License Dispute Over Faith Based Teen Rescue Facility

In a Tentative Ruling (full text [scroll down]) in Leary v. Teen Rescue,(Shasta Cty. Calif. Super. Ct., Nov. 18, 2019), a California state trial court judge refused to enter a preliminary injunction that would shut down a residential facility for abused and neglected children.  The state claims that the facility should be regulated under state law as a "community care facility." The court agrees that the state has a reasonable probability of prevailing at trial on this claim, but says that there remains a significant religious free exercise question:
Defendants argue that they choose to address behavior through faith-based practices. Compliance with the Act and licensure would impact Defendants’ rights to free exercise of religion, in that 22 CCR § 80072 mandates that students be “free to attend religious services or activities of his/her choice and have visits from the spiritual advisor of his/her choice.” Further, “Attendance at religious services, in or outside of the facility, shall be on a completely voluntary basis” (“the spiritual exploration provisions”). Additionally, the Act provides students the right “[t]o be free from acts that seek to change his or her sexual orientation . . .” (“the SOCE prohibit”). The Act requires staff be trained in “[c]ultural competency and sensitivity in issues relating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities” (“the LGBT cultural competency requirement”)....
The State advances the argument that requiring community care facilities to train staff in sensitivity to LGBTQ issues is neutral and does not infringe on or restrict religious practices. Defendants hold beliefs that are in direct opposition to this requirement. ....
There is no question that the protection of children – especially the particularly sensitive population of children Defendants seek out for their facility – is of great importance. However, the Court must also consider the foreseeable harm to the defendants in granting this injunction. “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” Elrod v. Burns (1976) 427 US 347, 373. The Court is concerned about the potential impact of the preliminary injunction on Plaintiff’s First Amendment freedoms, and the attendant presumption of irreparable injury to Defendants if this injunction were to be granted prior to a full determination of the facts of the case. 
Pacific Justice Institute issued a press release announcing the decision.