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Disabled man turned away from AA meeting

 Our Lady Star of the Sea in St Annes
Our Lady Star of the Sea in St Annes Image credit: blackpoolgazette.co.uk

A disabled man was turned away from an Alcoholics Anonymous group last month for not wearing a face mask.

The 62-year-old tried to explain to the Diocese of Lancaster, who runs the function, he was exempt because he has autism but was not allowed to join the meeting at Our Lady Star of the Sea in St Annes, Blackpool upon arrival.

The site is curreently being used as a Covid-19 vaccination hub.

To compensate the Diocese said the man could wear a visor instead of a facemask, but the man refused.

He told Blackpool Gazette: "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."

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 told the Diocese 'disablists such as yourself have no place in modern society' calling the church decision as a hate crime.

He said: "I'm entitled not to wear a mask. 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."

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, when one alcoholic, Bill Wilson, talked to another alcoholic, Bob Smith, about the nature of alcoholism and a possible solution.