Row breaks out after maskless disabled man denied entry to Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at St Annes vaccination centre
A row has broken out between a St Annes church centre and a recovering alcoholic who was denied entry to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for not wearing a face mask.
The 62-year-old man, from Penrith, was turned away from the AA meeting at Our Lady Star of the Sea on St Albans Road, St Annes, on February 25.
The centre is currently being used as a Covid-19 vaccination hub.
The man was told he needed to put on a face mask, from which he says he is exempt due to his autism.
But the Diocese of Lancaster, which runs the group, stuck by its decision, as a property manager said that entry to the premises without protection was not a 'reasonable adjustment' as it could put lives at risk. They instead offered to provide the man with a visor in place of a mask at future meetings.
But he said: "Legally, you don't have to wear a mask if it causes you to suffer extreme distress. My autism causes me great anxiety and distress. Face mask, visor, anything - they can't force me to wear one. That's the law.
"It just seems clearly unfair that they are acting in this manner. I'm entitled to go wherever I want without a mask due to the exemption."
Government guidelines state that there are indeed exemptions to face mask rules. These include people who cannot wear them because of a physical or mental illness or disability, and situations where wearing one 'will causes severe distress'.
In an email shared with The Gazette, the man was told: "It is well known that the coronavirus is highly contagious and primarily spread by air droplet exhalation which makes face protection, indoors in the same room as other people, so important. If we allow people to enter without face protection we risk prosecution for not taking reasonable precautions, especially if someone should die as a result of catching the virus on our premises. This is particularly important for our St Annes premises since it is being used as a vaccination centre with many vulnerable people attending."
The man responded that 'disablists such as yourself have no place in modern society' and suggested the church's actions constituted a hate crime, but the Diocese said this 'totally misrepresented this matter'.
"I'm entitled not to wear a mask," the man said. "They might want to think they are protecting people and that's fine, but the law says otherwise. It's black and white. It's quite simple."
A spokesman for the Diocese of Lancaster said: "The Diocese tries to secure that all its venues conform to disability discrimination legislation. Our policy on face coverings within our buildings is similar to that taken by the AA for members at its meetings. For those unable to join a meeting in person perhaps a video link could be established to enable such individuals to join in the proceedings. This would be a matter for the AA meeting to arrange under the appropriate circumstances. We will do our best to help in this process.
"Currently the building is also being used as a vaccination centre by the NHS, and therefore the parish is especially keen to maintain the government rules concerning the gatherings of people in-doors during the pandemic. Our Lady’s parish, and the Diocese of Lancaster, wishes only to help maintain the common good of all who will use their buildings during these challenging times."