Since churches and ministries are exempt from Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are typically not required to allow service or emotional animals on their premises. However, if a church or ministry wishes to accommodate service or emotional support animals, it is always best to do so via a written policy that is communicated to all congregants.
The difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal
Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” Arizona’s definition of a service animal includes a miniature horse as well as a dog.
An emotional support animal is defined as an animal that provides comfort or therapeutic benefit through companionship to individuals with psychiatric disabilities or other mental or emotional impairments. They are not included under the ADA or Arizona law.
Developing a policy on service and emotional support animals
To establish clear expectations, churches should develop clear written policies on the accommodation of service and/or support animals. The policy should include:
- Definitions of service and emotional support animals per local and federal law.
- The church’s policy on accommodating service and emotional support animals.
- The church’s behavior expectations for animals and their handlers.
- Reasons for removal of emotional support animals.
- Instructions for handlers on how to request an accommodation from the church.
In addition, church staff needs to be educated about the church’s policy when it comes to service or emotional support animals. Churches that allow service animals may only ask two questions of an individual with a service animal:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Church staff may not ask an individual about his or her specific disability.
Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys are here to answer questions and to aid in establishing and crafting policies that help churches comply with local, state, and federal regulations. We recognize how essential the missions of nonprofit and religious organizations are for society, and we stand ready to counsel and serve the churches and nonprofit organizations of Arizona. Contact us to learn more.