Friday, May 2, 2014

Do People Understand The First Amendment At All?

A retired military man who works for a hospital in Stockton, California, is involved in a legal action to preserve his right to say "God bless America."

Boots Hawk, (USA Ret.) works in the Quality Management department at Dameron Hospital in Stockton. He is an outstanding employee who has been named "Employee Of The Year" in the past. Hawk was recently instructed by a hospital supervisor to stop including the phrase "God bless America" in his signature block on his e-mails. The supervisor said someone could be offended and suggested that the phrase was equivalent to an employee saying "Death to Christians."

Really? "God bless America" is the equivalent of "Death to Christians"? I wonder where that supervisor went to school.

Hawk complied with the instruction to remove the phrase from his e-mail but when he informed the hospital he was going to seek legal counsel in the matter he was suspended for two days, without pay, for "insubordination."

Hawk sought the assistance of the Pacific Justice Institute, who sent a letter to the hospital pointing out that federal employment law forbids any employer from engaging in harassment of employees because of their sincerely held beliefs and convictions. The hospital took notice because they withdrew the charge of insubordination and changed the suspension to paid leave.

"Without question this hospital's treatment of this war veteran – who was [honored as] Employee of the Year recently by the hospital – has had his rights trampled on and has suffered harassment simply because of the phrase 'God Bless America,'" says PJI's Brad Dacus, who continues to represent Hawk in the case. He says when he began court proceedings against the hospital they instituted a new policy mandating all employees to use a standard signature block with absolutely no deviations.

"For the hospital now to engage in greater censorship in deciding to try to cover their bases and censor all employees – under the pretext of being able to censor him – is not likely going to be sufficient to exonerate them from their prior actions of censoring 'God Bless America' from this heroic war veteran," states the attorney.

The case is ongoing.

Meanwhile, right here in Texas, a second grader was reading her Bible during a free reading period... until her teacher took it away. Apparently the Bible is not appropriate reading material in her class. There are copies of the Bible in the school library but I guess kids can only read those at home.

The parents of the child handled it differently than I would have. Saying they feared retribution from the school, they contacted the Liberty Institute rather than the principal. Personally, I would have gone to the principal and demanded the teacher be educated on the First Amendment. 

One parent said the teacher did the right thing saying "there should be a definite separation." Yet another person who needs to be educated. There is no separation of church and state written into the Constitution. That notion comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to a Baptist congregation in Maine that feared government overreach. Unfortunately, and extreme version of separation of church and state has become a common belief in America. And it is a mistaken belief.

The First Amendment guarantees there will be no religion mandated by the government. As such, Americans are free to exercise any religious belief they choose as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others or break written laws. I doubt very much that this little girl's reading material was violating anyone's rights. And she certainly wasn't breaking any laws - especially not the one of "separation of church and state," since it doesn't exist.

In fact, unless she can come up with some valid reason for taking the Bible, the teacher may have violated the child's First Amendment rights. The school district says they are investigating to determine if the incident happened and says if so they will look into whether or not what the student was reading met the district's criteria for their "read to myself" time. Anyone want to bet how it turns out?

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