Living in Bedford Heights has been markedly enjoyable for the nine years since my wife and I moved here. It’s quiet, the neighbors are terrific, the town is well kept with excellent city services, and I really can’t think of a single negative to register. I doubt it would rate as a utopia, but it’ll do until utopia comes along.
One of the items we get from the city on a yearly basis is a calendar, which mostly outlines city events, council meetings and the like. Up until this year, I’d paid those calendars no mind, but for some odd reason, this past December, I decided to page through it. No big deal, at least initially – it was a simple calendar – right up to when I got to the page for December, 2019, and I ran onto this:
That message on the left of the graphic was more than a little surprising to me, to put it mildly. At least as egregious was a message in the calendar section itself:
Christmas is spiritual and a truly family-oriented holiday. During this time of year families take the time so spend time with their loved ones. Christmas is a time of giving as Jesus was given to man as a gift from God. Subsequently, Jesus gave up His life for the sins of man. So although many give hand-made or store-bought gifts as a way to express the love and appreciation, it all began with a sacrifice of a life in order to preserve our relationship with the Creator.
Just to confirm my suspicions, I reviewed the rest of the calendar. Easter was there, of course, but there was no mention of any other religious holiday: no Passover, Kwanza, Ramadan, or Hanukkah. No getting around it, this was a clear violation of State / Church separation right in my own back yard.
I contacted my fellows at the Northern Ohio Freethought Society to discuss this matter further. Their conclusion was the same as mine: this was a problem and merited a response from us as representatives of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I drafted a letter to Bedford Heights Mayor Fletcher Berger:
Dear Mayor Berger:
I have been a resident of Bedford Heights for the past nine years. In that time, I have received calendars produced by the city and admittedly never paid much attention to them until now. In particular, I had to note the page for December. Certainly, I would expect the 25th to be properly noted as Christmas, but the message in the graphic top left of the page and the text at the top of the calendar section could not be construed as anything other than the promotion of one particular religious holiday. In paging through the rest of the calendar, I saw no mention of Hanukkah, Passover, Kwanza or Ramadan. What I did see is a city document promoting one specific religion.
In the message found on the first page of the calendar, you said you were proud to represent this city. In your position as a governmental representative, it is incumbent upon you to recognize the importance of the separation of State and Church and to honor that in all the actions you and your subordinates take. It is also important to realize that the citizens you represent are not just Christians. They may also be Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, or Jains … or they may not hold to any god at all.
As non-religious American and a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, I see this calendar as clearly problematic. Any kind of advancement of religion by a government and using government funds for its production is in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. I should note that rulings regarding governmental support of such documents are rife throughout the court system, and in virtually 100% of cases, the judgments have been against them. Obviously, nothing can be done about the current calendar, but I would expect future versions to reflect the secular nature of our government and a religion-neutral attitude.
I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to appropriate action.
Loren C. Miller, Jr.
Representative: Northern Ohio Freethought Society
That missive went out on 14 January and I honestly didn’t know whether or not we would get a response. In addition, a copy of the letter and related pages of the Bedford Heights calendar went to the Legal Department of the FFRF, to apprise them of the situation and if necessary, enjoin their support. The FFRF’s Rebecca Markert was quick to respond, letting us know that they concurred with our assessment of the calendar and stood ready to help if we needed it.
It wasn’t until the 2nd of February when the letter from the office of the Mayor of Bedford Heights arrived in our mail:
HE AGREED! On every salient point!
One interesting point noted by an associate of mine at NOFS: the mayor’s office took fully two weeks before they responded, suggesting that they chewed on the issue I had presented to them before answering. In addition, there was the fact that, in representing FFRF, I was speaking for an organization with an established reputation of taking positive action in such situations. The smart money was on recognizing that we were right, and they did.
I still intend to give the Bedford Heights calendar for 2020 a thorough look when it comes out in 10 or so months, but for the moment, I see this as a win, not just for me or for NOFS or FFRF, but for everyone who values a secular government, whether local, state or federal.
I think that’s important, because I also think there are no small battles as it comes to this business, and I mean to keep my eye peeled for the next one.