In Stevens v. Optimum Health Institute - San Diego, 2011 WL 3741055, Case No. 09cv2565-WQH-RBB (S.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2011), the court held that a religious institution, subordinate to Free Sacred Trinity Church (FSTC), operating a "holistic health program" in Lemon Grove, California, violated the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA) by denying a blind woman access to a place of public accommodation unless accompanied by another adult. Optimum Health Institute (OHI) described itself as a "spiritual retreat" with a "monastic-like setting" with values based on "ancient spiritual disciplines" and "Essene based dietary and cleansing practices." Attendees "are not required to adhere to any specific religious value or belief or … be a member of OHI or FSTC." They are also not required to participate in any of the religious activities on-site such as daily prayer circles and liturgies or ritual purification. The court considered both of these facts key when concluding that OHI is a "business establishment" within the meaning of the Unruh Act and a "public accommodation" pursuant to the DPA.
The plaintiff asked to come with her guide dog, but was turned down. The court held this a violation of the Unruh Act and DPA. OHI advised that animals were not welcome on the grounds, because the grounds are sacred and allowing animals would be "antithetical to the promotion of a safe, healing environment … particularly for people who have animal phobias or allergies … ." OHI defended that applying Unruh or the DPA to it would, therefore, violate its rights to free expressive association, free exercise of religion and due process. The court disagreed and found that even if OHI's rights were infringed, the state had a compelling interest in eliminating discrimination against the disabled pursued in the least restrictive manner. The court also disagreed that the Americans with Disabilities Act, which contains an exemption for religious organizations, preempts the Unruh Act and DPA, and that either was void for vagueness.