ACLU balks at ‘Bible Week’ proclamation in Provo

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    By ROB ROGERS

    The Bible will be performing a great escape from the hands of the American Civil Liberties Union, if Provo Mayor Lewis Billings has anything to do with it.

    At the Provo City Council Meeting Tuesday night, Billings declared Nov. 22-28 as National Bible week, despite protests from the ACLU of Utah. The ACLU protested the mayor’s Bible Week proclamation last year and will do so again this year if Provo residents complain, said Carol Gmade, of press relations for the ACLU.

    “We would have hoped that (Billings) would have been more sensitive, but it looks like he’s being pretty cavalier about it,” Gmade said.

    In a letter drafted last year by ACLU legal director Stephen Clark, Billings was asked to rescind the 1998 proclamation because it “(was) in clear violation of the First Amendment.” It also points out that similar provisions in the Utah Constitution are violated by a city-wide bible week.

    The letter went on to state that the city’s proclamation of Bible Week in Provo “breaches the wall” of church and state separation, and that the taxes of residents from other religious backgrounds should not be used to promote something in which they do not believe.

    National Bible Week was an event lobbied in 1998 by the National Bible Society. Provo, along with a host of other cities around the United States were asked to participate, Billings said.

    This year the declaration came straight from the office of the mayor.

    “I find it quite offensive that someone would write and try to limit my right to free speech,” Billings said.

    The proclamation encourages citizens to participate in the event by reading the bible and discovering its values for personal and community life.

    Billings has had the proclamations, both this year’s and last, researched by the city’s legal department. Neither time has the department found legal problems with the proclamations.

    “We’ve drawn our own proclamation this year,” Billings said. “We feel it is fully legal.”

    This year’s Bible Week spans Thanksgiving. Billings stated at the City Council Meeting that Americans should be thankful for religious freedom. Bible Week includes the November holiday for that reason, he said.

    Last year some residents of Provo called and complained to the ACLU resulting in the letter sent to Billings, Gmade said.

    The ACLU can only get involved if there is citizen complaint. Legal action can only be taken if one of the citizens decides to bring a law suit against the city, she said.

    “If we had an actual person come forward,” Gmade said, “action could be taken. The problem is they fear retaliation.”

    Whether or not the ACLU will take action this year has yet to be decided.

    “We haven’t made up our mind,” Gmade said. “At the least we’ll send a letter.”

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