In South Carolina, a disabled blind man and his service dog were kicked out of a church service, simply because he had a guide dog with him.
29-year-old Taylor Burch is legally blind and uses a 5-year-old service dog named Independence to help him function day-to-day. The dog, nicknamed Indy, was trained and certified at the Southeastern Guide Dog School in Palmetto, Florida.
But neither of those facts stopped the church from sending Taylor on his way.
When Taylor attended Low County Community Church for the first time, it was after moving to the area. He was looking for a local worship service and church to attend regularly.
Unfortunately, when he arrived at the service with his official guide dog, things didn’t go like he thought they would.
Taylor spoke about the incident via a Facebook post on his sister Tiffany Michelle’s account:
“I moved to a new town and today wanted to attend church with just me & my guide dog “Indy”. Upon entering the church I was approached by a strong looking man with a church badge that told me to come in another room alone with him he needed to speak to me! I was reluctant and nervous but felt I was in a safe and loving place so I went. He shut the door and told me dogs were not allowed in their church – this is a huge contemporary church – I stated I am legally blind and he is a licensed guide dog – he asked was I dependent on him – of course I am I’m blind sir!! He continued to tell me that churches have the right to refuse service dogs in their church – I said he is not a just a service dog sir he is a licensed guide dog. I felt so uncomfortable, humiliated, scared, and targeted I told him I would just leave!! He was glad to see me leave. I am devastated by such treatment from a church.”
After being kicked out of the church, Taylor and Indy waited outside in the summer heat for a ride home from Taylor’s mother.
In Tiffany’s Facebook post, she admitted that churches do not need to adhere to ADA laws regarding service animals, but couldn’t believe a place that “teaches love and acceptance would not allow a person like my brother and his very well behaved and intensely trained dog to attend a church service.”
There are many “fake” services dogs and emotional support animals in society today, but it doesn’t excuse the church from treating a blind man and his seeing eye dog so callously.
Two days after turning the boy away, the church’s pastor apologized to Taylor in an email. The pastor even claimed that he decided to change the church’s policy on service animals, according to a statement from the church.
Although Taylor has no plans to return to the church, in a Facebook post he stated that he hoped his experience would help “bring about equality for all disabled persons and their service dogs and anyone else needing to feel included in a church, any church.”
Taylor’s focus now is to make it a federal law that certified service animals cannot be turned away from churches and other organizations that are exempt from the ADA rules.