Blind woman denied entry into church because of guide dog

Betty is the guide dog for blind Texas resident, Mari Ramos.
Betty is the guide dog for blind Texas resident, Mari Ramos. | Screenshot/KBTX3

A blind Texas woman who says she was unable to attend a church because officials wouldn't allow her guide dog inside their sanctuary, learned Sunday that she couldn't force them to accommodate her service animal because religious entities, including churches, are “completely exempt” from Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The woman, Mari Ramos, explained in an interview with KBTX3, that she needs to have her service dog with her everywhere she goes because they are a “cohesive unit.” She said that the church, which the news outlet did not identify because they did not break any laws, denied her the opportunity to worship by not accommodating her dog.

“I had somebody say to me on Sunday, 'Well, I’m not denying you. I’m denying your service animal.' Well, by extension you are denying me because Betty and I are a cohesive unit,” Ramos said.

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Title III of the ADA addresses disability-based discrimination. Under this law, private businesses that “own, lease, lease to, or operate any of twelve types of ‘places of public accommodation’” must ensure access to goods and services by making reasonable policy modifications, and communicating effectively with individuals who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities, according to the ADA National Network.

Religious entities, such as churches, “are completely exempt from Title III of the ADA.”

“All of their facilities, programs, and activities, whether they are religious or secular in nature, are exempt,” the ADA National Network explains.

Mari Ramos
Mari Ramos | Screenshot/KBTX3

Ramos says she was embarrassed to learn that service animals were barred from some religious entities and certain areas of hospitals. Her dog Betty was denied entry into the church because of a band and flashing lights which officials deemed to be “inappropriate” for a service animal. She argued, however, that it is the service animal’s handler who should decide what’s appropriate.

“There was just this feeling of being turned away, this feeling of embarrassment, this feeling of being excluded from something,” she said, noting that she wants other disabled individuals to learn more about handling their service animals.

Terry Cadle, the owner of River’s Edge Dog Academy in College Station, told KBTX3 that each time they train a service animal, they try to ensure their handlers are educated on the rules that govern them.

“You don’t want to feel discriminated against, you don’t want to feel different. You already feel different having the dog with you, and so on. Now they’re making a big deal out of it … it can be very belittling and very hard on people,” Cadle said.

He believes that better public education can also help people understand how vital service animals are to the people they serve.

 “They become their right-hand man,” Cadle said. “Take them everywhere, do everything with them.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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