Muzzling Public Officials Employees and Appointees

THIS SUBJECT MATTER OF THIS CHAPTER overlaps to a degree with that of Chapter Six, because oftentimes the banning of Christian symbols and activities from public property also involves individuals active in some capacity with the public sector. This chapter chronicles the battle against public employees, officials, and appointees, centering on the common thread of anti-Christian prejudice that underlies most of these cases.

Public Employees Government Employees

We begin with the ACLU, which in 2002 was again up in arms, this time about signs on the outskirts of Franklinton, Louisiana, saying, "Jesus is Lord over Franklinton." The signs were paid for and owned by local area churches, so what was the problem? Well, there were two. One was that the signs were on state roads-not endorsed by the state in any way, mind you, but merely placed on state roads. The other, more serious objection was that parish road crews helped to erect the signs at the request of church members. Of course, these were just convenient legal pegs on which the ACLU could hang its hats. The real cause of the angst had nothing to do with church/state relations, since the ACLU wasn't even aware of the road crews' assistance with the signs until after it started looking into the matter. Rather, the problem arose when a motorist from New Orleans, fifty-five miles from Franklinton, drove by and was offended by the signs. The driver asked, "Can you imagine the hostility that Jews, Muslims, members of other minority faiths and non-believers must feel when living in or passing through that community?" Mayor Earle R. Brown explained that there was little significance to the road crews' helping to put up the signs. They probably would have helped any nonprofit groups erect their signs, not just churches. He said that the signs had been up for about two years, thousands of people had passed through, and no one had previously objected to them.

Although the ACLU prevailed and the signs were removed, their action caused a backlash of sorts among community residents. Following the removal of the signs, townspeople began to place on their lawns signs proclaiming "God Is Lord Over All." A local sign-maker, Scott Blair, sold almost three thousand signs (in a town where the population is around four thousand), which residents placed in Franklinton yards and storefronts. "There was sort of an outcry from the Christian community," said Gene Richards, pastor of Hill Crest Baptist Church in Franklinton. "It seems the ACLU is trying to deChristianize the community. These signs originally were a declaration of the faith of a large majority of people in Franklinton. They were never intended to be offensive or to discriminate against anyone." Franklinton residents, in fact, established a mini-

trend, placing the signs in surrounding areas. "Now they're in every town in Washington Parish," said Scott Blair.

In April 2001, the Logan County Public Library in Bowling Green, Kentucky, fired employee Kimberly Draper for wearing a necklace with a cross pendant to work, even though, Draper asserts, she was told when hired in August 1998 that she was "free to wear religious jewelry." But, forty-five days later, she received a copy of the library's dress code policy, which banned "religious, political, or potentially offensive decoration." Draper's superiors told her she had to take off her necklace, out of respect for the religious diversity of its patrons. "If someone wants to check out a book, and one of us shows that we have a different religious point of view than them, it could make [the patron] uncomfortable;' explained library director Linda Kompanik.

It is difficult to understand how anyone could be offended by another person, albeit an employee of a local government institution, who simply is wearing jewelry reflecting her commitment to Christianity. As it turns out, this was not an isolated occurrence, as the following case involving a Texas policeman illustrates.

In the Arlington, Texas, police department, thirteen-year-veteran Sergeant George Daniels was fired for insubordination when he refused to remove a lapel cross from his uniform while on duty. Although other officers were permitted, even encouraged, to wear other insignia on their uniforms, such as Mexican flag pins and union pins, police chief David Kunkle refused to permit the cross because it "might offend someone" Daniels, a former recipient of the "Rookie of the Year" and "Officer of the Year" awards, said he believed he would be publicly denying his faith if he removed the Christian symbol. Perhaps reasonable people can disagree over whether Officer Daniels should have forfeited his free expression rights to conform to his employer's demands and whether he should have been fired for insubordination. But those issues aside, the question remains: why in modern American society is the open expression of one's Christian faith deemed offensive by some? We've come a long way when government employers officially sanction the concept that the age-old symbol of Christian sacrificial love can be interpreted as evidence of bias or prejudice.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, Hawaii, the police department decided to change its oath for incoming police officers to remove the phrase "so help me God." The department rolled over without a struggle when the Hawaiian Citizens for Separation of Church and State (HCSCS) complained. In charging police chief Lee Donohue with misconduct, HCSCS president Mitch Kahle asserted that those words, which were codified in the police department's Standards of Conduct, constituted an unconstitutional religious test. The obsequious department issued a statement expressing its commitment to the Constitutions of the United States and Hawaii and its intention henceforth to revise its oath to exclude the offending language. In addition, Kahle asked the department to get rid of a safety guide that contained a fireman's prayer mentioning "God."

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