Honolulu, Hawai‘i: The ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief and the ACLU of Hawaiʻi Foundation are pleased that Kāhala Nui, an O‘ahu-based retirement community, recently clarified its policies and practices to conform with state and federal laws protecting religious freedom and the right to aid in dying. The policies come in response to a November 2018 letter sent by the ACLU, demanding that the retirement community stop using language that expressed an illegal preference for Catholics and refrain from unlawfully interfering with residents’ access to aid in dying.

In May 2018, Kāhala Nui issued a memorandum to all residents stating that the recently passed “Our Care, Our Choice” Act, which provides medical aid in dying, was “not an option” for residents because it would conflict with provisions of the retirement community’s ground lease with the Catholic Church. The lease forbids activities “inconsistent with the doctrines and teachings of the Church.” As explained in the ACLU’s letter objecting to the memorandum and demanding remedial steps be taken, under federal and state fair housing law, “Kahala Nui and its affiliates may not impose religious dictates on its residents or otherwise discriminate on the basis of religion.”

After receiving the letter and meeting with ACLU officials, Kāhala Nui confirmed that it (1) has clarified that the policies stated in its May 2018 memorandum do not apply to the independent living residential units; (2) revised its residency agreement to  incorporate that clarification and to revise existing policies prohibiting discrimination to specifically state that it does not grant preference for Catholics; and (3) contacted prospective residents previously on the retirement community’s waitlist, who had withdrawn from the waitlist after the May 2018 memorandum, to inform them of these developments. The retirement community has also agreed to not interfere with the independent living resident's efforts to provide on-site education about the law. Although Kahala Nui does not offer medical aid in dying to residents living in the health care sections of its facility, in accordance with an exemption provided by the “Our Care, Our Choice” Act, the ACLU maintains that no landlord or health care provider can or should interfere with a resident’s or patient’s decision to seek such care on their own.

ACLU of Hawaii Legal Director Mateo Caballero said: “The ACLU of Hawai‘i is pleased that we were able to work with Kāhala Nui to correct these issues. This goes a long way to ensuring that its residents’ freedom of religion will be respected.”

Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLUʻs Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, applauded the retirement community’s response to the ACLU’s objections: “This is a victory for the civil rights of Kāhala Nui residents and the people of Hawai‘i. We’re all free to practice any faith we choose or none at all. Communities like Kāhala Nui have no right to impose religious beliefs or practices on their residents.”

ACLU of Hawai‘i Executive Director Joshua Wisch added, “We hope other housing providers in Hawai'i will take note of this good outcome. It demonstrates that Hawai‘i can and will continue to be a place where our kūpuna and their civil rights are both respected and protected.”

Hawaii’s “Our Care, Our Choice Act” went into effect January 1, 2019.