CBNNews.com - A California group home's decision to suspend a veteran counselor for "exposing" four teens to Christian music is being called a "ridiculous [act of] state hostility to religion."
Maureen Loya is suing the Orangewood Children's Home for religious descrimination after she was suspended for more than a month without pay for "exposing children to unapproved religious activities," attorneys for her case say.
The controversy began when Loya, who is a Christian, took four teen girls from the home on an approved field trip to the beach in June 2006.
While on the Huntington Beach pier, they came across the Surfrider Foundation Celebrity Surf Jam, a secular event that included a concert from Incubus and Switchfoot, two alternative style bands rooted in Christian music. The pier is a popular local spot that often hosts such public events. Loya was not aware of the concert beforehand, her attorney says.
Click play for comments from Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute, the group helping with Loya's case.
A Hypocritical Penalty?
For about 10 minutes the teen girls overheard the music as they ate, Loya said. The girls also visited booths at the event, some of which sold Christian items. The teens never complained or asked to leave, the lawsuit revealed.
Seven months later, that field trip cost Loya a six-week suspension without pay. It's unclear how the teen's exposure to the Christian music was made known to group home authorities, but the lawsuit claims no complaint had been filed. Loya had been working at Orangewood for more than 18 years without any issues, according to her lawyers.
"There is absolutely nothing that this counselor did with regards to these four foster care girls that was in any way proselytizing or inappropriate," Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, told CBN news. The Christian legal organization is helping represent Loya in the case.
Dacus called the penalty "hypocritical," claiming the group home showed no concern for the other bands at the concert singing "very controversial secular lyrics."
'Voluntary' Religious Expression Allowed
Terry Lynn Fisher, a spokeswoman for Orangewood, told CBN News that proselytizing was "not permitted" at Orangewood. But Bible studies and other religious services are offered at the group home.
Participation in the religious services is "strictly voluntary" she said. Children of faiths like Islam and Judaism are also accommodated if they want to attend a mosque or synagogue.
Fisher added that Orangewood had not yet been notified of the lawsuit, and thus, could not offer comment on the case.
Loya is seeking the wages she lost during the suspension. The Orange County Superior Court is expected to hear the case, though a trial date has not been set.
Orangewood Children's Home is an emergency shelter in Orange County for "neglected and sexually, physically or emotionally abused children." Fisher said most children at the shelter do not stay for more than a few days.