BLUFFTON, S.C. - A blind man and his service dog were turned away from a South Carolina church and after local news outlets reported on what happened, the church changed its policy on guide dogs.
Taylor Burch, 29, is legally blind and uses his 5-year-old service dog named Independence, or Indy for short. Indy was trained and certified at the Southeastern Guide Dog School in Palmetto, Florida, according to Burch.
On Sunday, Burch went to LowCounty Community Church for the first time. He said he’d just moved to the area and wanted to attend a local worship service.
Burch said once he’d gone inside, a man with a church badge guided him to another room where he was told Indy wasn’t allowed.
“I stated I am legally blind and he is a licensed guide dog – he asked was I dependent on him – of course I am, I’m blind sir!” Burch said. “I felt so uncomfortable, humiliated, scared and targeted, I told him I would just leave! He was glad to see me leave. I am devastated by such treatment from a church.”
He and Indy then waited outside in the summer heat until his mother arrived to pick him up.
Burch’s sister, Tiffany Michelle, shared the story with a photo of Burch and Indy on her Facebook page, which quickly went viral and gained attention from local news outlets.
She said she understood that churches do not have to abide by ADA laws regarding service animals, but couldn’t believe a place that “teaches love and acceptance would not allow a person like my brother and his very well behaved and intensely trained dog to attend a church service.”
“I am upset that one of the reasons he was asked to leave was due to the plethora of fake service dogs in our midst,” she said. “If you have a fake service dog, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Two days after turning Burch away, the church’s pastor apologized to Burch in an email and said he decided to change the church’s policy on service animals, according to a statement from the church.
In a Facebook post, Burch said he wanted to use his experience to “bring about equality for all disabled persons and their service dogs and anyone else needing to feel included in a church, any church.”
“Thank you for doing the right thing pastor. Very much appreciated by me and all who have voiced their concerns. Blessings always to you and your church,” Burch said.
Burch doesn't plan on going back to the church but hopes his story helps other people with service animals attend.
He said now his focus is to make it a federal law that certified service animals cannot be turned away from churches and other organizations that are exempt from the ADA law.
"I feel like God gave me this platform and I'm going to use it so everyone has an equal choice," he said.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. Fox Television Station's Amy Lieu contributed to this report.