A veteran youth counselor is suing a California children's home after she was suspended without pay because teenagers under her supervision overheard Christian music.
In a suit filed on Feb. 13, Maureen Loya charged Orangewood Children's Home with religious discrimination for slapping her with a six-week suspension for "exposing children to unapproved religious activities."
In July 2006, the counselor took four teenage girls from the Orangewood Children's Home on an approved field trip to the Anaheim 5K run and then to the beach.
When the group went to Huntington Beach pier, they encountered the Surfrider Foundation's Celebrity Surf Jam, which featured a surfing competition and concert as part an effort to raise awareness and support for our nation's beach and coastal environments. The event's entertainment included Christian-based music groups Incubus and Switchfoot. According to the suit, the group overheard ten minutes of Christian music as they were eating. The girls also visited booths at the pier, some of which were selling Christian items.
Following the beach outing, Loya, who has worked with the group home for 18 years, was questioned about the trip during a disciplinary meeting at the children's home.
Several months later, the same incident was brought up again and the counselor received a letter notifying her of the suspension.
In February and March 2007, Loya served her six-week suspension without pay.
The recent suit, filed in the Orange County Superior Court, asks for compensation for the missed work time and to vindicate her constitutional rights.
Loya is represented by John and Laurie Messerly Stewart, attorneys in Orange, Calif., and the Pacific Justice Institute.
"What happened to this counselor was insane and unjust," said Brad Dacus, president of California-based Pacific Justice Institute. "Allowing teenagers to overhear a few minutes of Christian music while at the beach should not result in a six-week suspension."
The Orangewood Children's Home was created by the Orangewood Children's Foundation 25 years ago with a vision to build a facility to shelter Orange County children who were the victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment, according to the organization's Web site.