Service animals—such as guide dogs for the blind—perform vital tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals, also known as companion or comfort animals, offer assistance in other ways. Consider drafting a policy that maintains safety while welcoming service dogs or support animals. Following a written policy can help ensure that the ministry responds lawfully and consistently when someone asks to bring a service or support animal to church.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires places of public accommodation to allow service animals on their property, but ministries are not generally subject to these requirements. Even so, the ADA’s requirements can offer some guidance about permitting service or emotional support animals on ministry property.
For example, a written policy might address:
This sample policy for service and support animals, developed by Brotherhood Mutual, can help you get started. Most ministries are exempt from complying with the ADA, but state and local laws still may apply. A local attorney can help ensure that the ministry’s policy complies with all applicable laws.
With service and emotional support animals becoming more common, it’s a good idea to share some general guidance with greeters, ushers, and others who interact with the public. For example, if a ministry decides to permit service animals but not emotional support animals, it would be helpful for staff and volunteers to know they may politely ask the animal’s owner:
These are the two questions the ADA allows people to ask when deciding whether to admit a service animal into a building normally off-limits to animals.
For more information on how the ADA addresses service animals, see the ADA’s requirements or its answers to frequently asked questions. You may also be interested in reading this article about service and emotional support animals at church.
Updated January 14, 2020
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The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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