Reagan Policy on the Retarded

I read with interest your article (Jan. 19) describing the U.S. Justice Department's brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in which the department supported the City of Cleburne, Tex., in defending the constitutionality of a zoning ordinance prohibiting homes for the retarded in residential neighborhoods. Many of your readers (Letters, Jan. 26) disagree--so do I.

Exclusionary local zoning ordinances such as the one in the Cleburne case serve to discourage the development of alternative care facilities. In 1978, the California Legislature passed laws to limit local zoning restrictions aimed at small group homes for the developmentally disabled, thereby encouraging the private sector to establish alternative care facilities.

That is good law and good policy. To that end the California attorney general's office has joined 10 other states in an amicus brief filed by the state of Connecticut urging the Supreme Court to strike down Cleburne's unconstitutional zoning ordinance.

We also request that courts review all discriminatory legislation affecting the rights of the mentally retarded with what we call "heightened scrutiny" so that such restrictive legislation can only be approved if justified by sufficiently important reasons.

We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will agree.

JOHN VAN DE KAMP

Attorney General

State of California

Sacramento

The fact that the Reagan Administration supports the group trying to prevent the establishment of a group home for the developmentally disabled concerns me very much.

My brother Johnny is 24 years old and is autistic. He lives at home with my parents at the present time, but they've been searching for several years for a permanent residence for him so they can be free of worry about his future when they're no longer able to care for him. I'm sure there are many other families in our country who have similar concerns for one of their members.

It is evident that group homes staffed by dedicated and caring people will provide the safe, secure environment we would want for our "special ones."

When Ronald Reagan was California's governor, funds for the handicapped were cut back. At that time, my Dad's best friend,Frank Walton , was a member of Reagan's staff. Fran has always been very supportive of my parents' efforts to find the ways and means to establish group homes in Southern California, especially in the Santa Barbara and/or Santa Maria area.

I'm urging the President now to do whatever he can to help these people who are incapable of helping themselves. They and their families have a right to the peace and security we all need and treasure.

SISTER FRANCES PEDERSEN

All Souls Convent

Alhambra

I have just read with disbelief the article regarding the Administration's backing of Cleburne's rejection of a license for a small residential facility in that "fine city."

I feel this is just another fine example of this Administration's absolute insensitivity to the plight of the poor, needy and handicapped citizens.

In this age of buzzwords, "mainstreaming" has become one of the most important words to the handicapped community. It has opened doors into education, employment and many other aspects of life. However, it seems not to have reached the area of housing at least in the eyes of the Administration.

This step of mainstreaming the retarded population into the community is just one more step toward independent living for a population that has been locked into institutions for too long. With the help of these mainstreamed residential facilities, the retarded have made giant strides into the community and are becoming functioning members of this society. This Cleburne rejection is a giant step backward for this population.

LARRY HERSCHLER

Westminster

As a parent of a retarded girl, I read with dismay at the Reagan Administration is "backing a Texas City's attempt to bar a home for 13 retarded persons from a residential neighborhood. I was deeply disturbed, but not surprised, as this is not the first time the Reagan Administration has attempted to deny basic rights to our citizens who are retarded.

In 1982, attempts were made to deregulate the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and thereby weaken our retarded childrens' rights for a free, appropriate education. It was only through tremendous efforts by parents, advocates, and handicapped citizens that our childrens' rights to quality education was preserved.

In 1984, the Reagan Administration again came out against the basic rights of retarded citizens--this time, the right to live and work in the community. In 1985, the Assn. for Retarded Citizens of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Justice Department joined parents of retarded citizens in the now famous Halderman vs. Pennhurst suit. The plaintiff contended that the residents of Pennhurst, a large, overcrowded institution near Philadelphia, had a right t live in their own community. The Justice Department, with ARC and the parents, went through nine long years of trials and appeals, including two appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court. I was president of the Pennsylvania Assn. for Retarded Citizens in 1984, when the Justice Department reversed their position of nine years--a position supported by three Presidents--Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Instead of supporting retarded citizens' right to live in a community, the Justice Department submitted a brief to the Supreme Court denying this basic right enjoyed by all other Americans.

The latest issue before the court is whether mentally retarded persons constitute a "quasi-suspect class" for purposes of analysis under the equal protection clause of the Constitution and whether all legislation affecting the class must be tested by an "intermediate" or "heightened" level of scrutiny. The importance of the court's decision that mentally retarded people do not constitute "quasi-suspect class" could mean that persons with mental retardation have little constitutional protection in the courts from laws that discriminate, segregate, and impinge on civil rights on the basis of a classification of retardation.

The U.S. Justice Department contends in its brief that retarded citizens, unlike other minorities, do not deserve special attention to prevent them from suffering discrimination. Even the President's Committee on Mental Retardation unanimously declared that discrimination represented in this case is barred by the Constitution.

As I listened to President Reagan's Inaugural Address, I heard such reassuring phrases as "We will not rest until every American enjoys the fullness of freedom, dignity, and opportunity as our birth right."; "We must think anew and move with new boldness . . . so the least among us have an equal chance to achieve the greatest things."; "There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams."

I and hundreds of thousands of parents also have a dream. Our dream of our retarded children and their dreams for themselves are not easily forthcoming through legislation or litigation. They become reality through next door neighbors, employers, teachers, and parishioners who understand this moral imperative: People with retardation shouldn't need a declaration of rights to live among us, rather they simply ought to live among us.

Please President Reagan, make our dreams and your words a reality. Support us in our efforts to keep our children among us.

N. KAREN KELLY

Pasadena

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°