California Veterans Home in Legal Case Over Free Speech and Religion Rights

SACRAMENTO—California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) is in a legal battle over free speech and religion and attempting to evict an elder resident of the Veterans Home.

Artis Breau, an 84-year-old widow was reportedly threatened to be evicted over a dispute regarding her longtime Bible study.

Nine years ago, Breau and her husband moved to the Veterans Home of California in Yountville. Breau’s husband, who passed away a few years ago, served in World War II as a merchant marine and in the Army, and in the Korean War he served in the Air Force. The two met while Breau worked at the Pentagon in the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army.

Starting in late 2018, Breau faced allegations from the Veterans Home claiming her activities involving religion was interfering with other residents’ well-being. Attorney Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) has been representing Breau in this ongoing case.

In a press release, PJI recently reported that they “secured the restoration of a Bible study for elderly residents of the Veterans Home of California. But PJI attorneys will continue to fight for full restoration of religious freedom in the Home.”

Continuous Conflicts

Since moving into the Veterans Home, Breau volunteered to lead a Bible study with other residents of the home. In September 2018, she had a discussion with another resident about heaven and hell.

According to attorney Matthew McReynolds, senior attorney at Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the staff at the Veterans Home claimed Breau “committed ‘emotional abuse’ and ‘elder abuse’ by allegedly causing another resident to lose sleep after a discussion about heaven and hell.”

The Veterans Home then suspended Breau’s volunteer status and Bible study. In December, she was reportedly involved in another dispute with the Veterans Home regarding a Hanukkah display.

McReynolds explained that Breau was asked to set up menorahs for the holidays, and her display included a scripture passage about Jesus going to the temple during Hanukkah.

The Veterans Home reported that this act of mixing elements from both Jewish and Christian religions “enraged” the paid rabbi of the facility. The Veterans Home proceeded to engage in a legal process.

However, during the entire legal process, Breau’s rights to free speech and religious expression had been limited, according to PJI attorneys.

McReynolds explained that “for due process, they [the Veterans Home] brought her [Breau] in, they suspended her from all her volunteer roles, and volunteer roles to an elderly or retired person can be just important or meaningful as employment to you or I. They suspended her from that. They refused to identify the allegations against her.”

The Veterans Home also reportedly declined to hold evidentiary hearings for Breau, which, according to McReynolds, is supposed to be provided within 5 to 10 days of an issued suspension in the contexts such as employment or education.

Over the course of six months, PJI found that Breau was never provided the documents that contained allegations against her. The Veterans Home only provided her a summary of their conclusions.

While the violations of the due process are concerning, PJI noted the violations to First Amendment rights were even more problematic. “What’s most concerning to us are the restrictions on religious freedom,” said McReynolds.

He continued that Veterans Homes claim of scriptures being offensive enough to call for an investigation and potential disciplinary action against a resident is a direct violation of people’s freedom of speech and religion.

The PJI attorney also revealed that part of the concern is also whether or not the Veterans Home will take action against Breau or other residents again in the future.

“They are still holding on to this notion that they are really not bound by any kind of normal due process standards and they can investigate residents, put enormous stress on them just because of religious conversations and  displaying scripture passages,” said McReynolds.

In the press release by PJI, their attorneys expressed that “what we’ve seen at the Veterans Home of California should concern every freedom-loving American. Of all people, our veterans and their widows from the Greatest Generation should enjoy the greatest blessings of liberty—not the least. We’re not about to let up until these veterans have complete freedom.”

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Author: Cynthia Cai