84-Year-Old Widow Threatened With Eviction From Veteran’s Home if She Doesn’t Stop Leading Bible Studies
An 84-year-old widow was threatened with eviction from a veteran’s home if she doesn’t stop leading Bible studies for fellow residents.
Artis Breau and her late husband moved into the California Veterans Home almost 10 years ago. Breau’s husband was a World War II and Korean War veteran. He was also part of the 82nd Airborne Division overseas. Breau had worked as a civilian employee at the Pentagon during the Korean War.
For the first five years at the veterans home, Breau volunteered to lead the Jewish services every other weekend and worked under a rabbi. Later, she began working with the Protestant chaplain as a volunteer. Breau led Bible studies for several years specifically for those who had the least mobility, the least ability to get to the regular chapel services. Attendance at the Bible study was voluntary.
However, Breau is now being investigated by the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet). Breau believes CalVet targeted her because she was an evangelical Jewish believer. Matthew McReynolds, her attorney at Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), agrees. “She’s run into some conflict with some of the other residents there and some of the chaplains because of her beliefs. She is evangelical and some of them are not. It’s really become a clash of worldviews more than anything else.”
The conflict began last September. A resident complained to a chaplain that he lost sleep over a conversation that Breau had with him. They talked about heaven and hell. Officials said what Breau did constituted elder abuse, emotional abuse and claimed it was illegal.
McReynolds said that the veterans home seems to want people like Breau not to express any beliefs they might think are controversial. “[It’s] just nearly the opposite of what we understand to be free speech and free exercise of religion and differing viewpoints and really the freedoms that these veterans themselves fought for.”
In the middle of December, the veterans home told Breau that they were suspending her volunteer status. However, they allowed her to continue the Bible study through the end of February.
On March 1, CalVet sent an email warning Breau she would be evicted if she continued the Bible studies. CalVet just conducted a long-awaited interview of Breau, which produced some concerns for McReynolds. At the interview, CalVet told Breau that three complaints had been lodged against her. First, a complaint alleged that Breau was “rude and discourteous.” Second, she allegedly entered a building without having had a flu shot or wearing a mask. The third complaint alleges that Breau put a Bible verse on the Hanukkah table in December.
“They actually told us in that meeting on Thursday that they could continue to add allegations against her in ‘perpetuity’.” said McReynolds. “That’s of great concern to us and that’s why I wrote to their counsel again yesterday to voice concerns about that and about the due process violations that that we believe have attended this whole investigation and this whole approach.
Breau is outspoken and has a strong personality. “The strong impression we’ve gotten is that the staff, administrators there would just much prefer to have veterans who don’t speak their minds, who don’t have strong beliefs who are easily controlled. That’s not [Breau] and for one, I’m thankful that there is someone like that there who can express themselves. That’s really what this has come down to.”
Considering Legal Options
If CalVet kicks Breau out of the facility, it would be a “huge mistake on their part.” McReynolds believes such a move would “bring some swift legal reaction.” PJI stated in a March 5 press release that several legal options are on the table. In addition, some residents may take action because they have been deprived of the Bible study.
“CalVet’s treatment of this widow is shameful.” He says he’s been “deeply disturbed” by the lack of constitutional guidelines, ineptitude and lack of due process throughout the investigation. More troubling is the “notion that discussing religious views on the eternal state of the soul is somehow elder abuse or emotional abuse. Our client’s husband fought for his country to preserve the freedoms now being threatened by CalVet. Our veterans deserve better.”
Breau has been comforted by the support of people around the world. She’s received many supportive emails and letters, which have boosted her spirits. If you would like to send a supportive message, please send to McReynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pacific Justice Institute, c/o Matt McReynolds, P.O. Box 276600, Sacramento, CA 95827-6600.