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"This right to believe or not to believe is core to who we are as humans." - Sam Brownback

Dec. 1, 2021

Ohio’s Bill of Rights for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities includes the right to practice the religion of their choice or to abstain from the practice of religion.  Most often families make religious decisions for children throughout their childhood, regardless of ability.  Those decisions often become a part of the individuals routine especially for adult children with autism.  Transitioning to online church due to COVID was a struggle for my son, only made successful through stories explaining the transition and trips to the church building to verify it was empty.  In fact, he continues to dress for church and go to the building each Sunday.  We have not transitioned him back to in-person church because he does not have the flexibility to change weekly as the local infection rate ebbs and flows.  While some may consider this “worshipping” and some may not, what matters is that it is his choice.  For whatever reason it is important to him to dress for church and go to the church building.  The law ensures him the right to practice or not practice his chosen religion in his chosen way.  For many this may include celebrating holidays in a way they choose.  Most holidays are connected in some way to religion and their celebration may be the way in which an individual with a disability practices their chosen religion.  The right to practice religion is important for people with disabilities just like it is important for people without disabilities regardless of how often or on what day they choose to practice it.  

When choosing a caregiver to support the person in their practice of a chosen religion, it is important to find a good fit that respects both the individual’s right to practice their religion and the caregivers right to practice theirs.  Avoiding a situation where someone feels uncomfortable about their religious beliefs is paramount when matching providers and those they serve.  However, we have found that more often than not individuals with disabilities are able to bridge gaps that typically developing individuals find impossible to overcome.  Our agency had Muslim care providers who wore the hijab take an individual we served into a Jewish synagogue to do volunteer work weekly for years.  Everyone involved was supportive of this arrangement.  It can be surprising how easily peace and goodwill can be accomplished by an individual with a “disability”.  Perhaps this is one of the abilities that make individuals with disabilities involvement in communities so beneficial for typically developing citizens.  The right to practice or not practice religion is an important part of balanced living for all people.