Kansas County Official Abused Position By Mailing Bible Tracts, Attacking Citizens's Beliefs, ACLU Says

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
August 30, 2000 12:00 am

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TOPEKA, KS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri entered court today to stop a local official from using her government position to abuse and intimidate citizens who do not share her religious viewpoints.

The ACLU contends that Rita Cline, as Shawnee County Treasurer, criticized and marginalized the religious beliefs of local resident Mary Lou Schmidt, who telephoned Cline’s office to ask that a poster stating “In God We Trust” be removed.

Using county letterhead, Cline sent a letter to Schmidt insulting her religious beliefs and questioning her patriotism because of her religious affiliation.

“I understood you to say that you are a Pagan, do not believe in God, and refuse to recognize or honor the American flag and our national motto, all the while claiming to be an American citizen,” said Cline in her letter to Schmidt. “Your statements surprised me and caused me to question your patriotism and wonder just how much of an American you really are.”

With that letter, the ACLU said, Cline crossed the line that separates her right to practice her religion and the restrictions placed on her as a government official, from actions that seek to establish her religion as the national faith.

“The religious freedom of every one of us, including Ms. Cline, is tied to the enforcement of the wall of separation between church and state,” said Lisa Nathanson, Legal director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “When that wall is high and strong, religious freedom is secure in this country. Ms. Cline would dismantle it. The ACLU takes this action to help secure it.”

The ACLU asked several times that Cline remove the posters that appear on government property. Each time, she has refused, in letters written on Shawnee County letterhead; Cline even challenged the ACLU to force her to remove the posters.

In some of her correspondence with the ACLU and other private citizens who also expressed their dismay with the posters, Cline continued to use county letterhead and would often include bible passages.

Cline mailed, to those in disagreement with her, a full-page tract entitled, “Why should anyone believe the Bible?” The tract, an argument for why people should believe in the Bible’s teachings, appears to have been mailed at county taxpayer expense, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Topeka residents Mary Lou Schmidt and Darlene Stearns. Ms. Stearns is offended by Cline’s use of taxpayer dollars to promote her religion and disparage the religion of others.

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