A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the city of Hart, Michigan, after officials there ordered a T-shirt message about Jesus censored.
The case developed when Margaret Wittman, an elections worker, was relieved of her duties for refusing to hide her shirt that said, “My heart will TRUST in you JESUS,” while working at the polls during the presidential election.
Robert Muise, of the American Freedom Law Center, which is working on the case, said, “The Constitution does not permit government officials to order a private citizen to check her religion at the door to city hall. Ms. Wittman does not cease being a Christian when she is performing her duties as an election worker…”
He continued, “Indeed, the First Amendment categorically prohibits government from regulating, prohibiting, or rewarding religious beliefs as such. And the principles that government officials may not enact or enforce policies that suppress religious belief or practice is well understood in our courts of law.”
The complaint states:
Plaintiff’s TRUST in JESUS shirt is not “political speech.” As publicly stated by Plaintiff, “Jesus holds no political office and was not on the ballot.”
Plaintiff refused Defendant Rabe’s demand because she did not want her religion “turned around,” “covered up,” or hidden by City officials. Plaintiff believes that it would be disrespectful and sacrilegious to treat JESUS, a name above all names, in this manner. See Matthew 1:21 (“She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”); Luke 1:31-33 (“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”).
Because Plaintiff would not act contrary to her firmly held religious beliefs and convictions, she was “relieved of her duties” as an election worker.
The AFLC explained Wittman then was ordered to speak with the city manager, who again told her that “TRUST in JESUS” is political speech.
The complaint explains that city officials violated Wittman’s rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Those would concern freedom of speech and free exercise of religion as well as equal protection.
The case, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, names the city and several individuals as defendants. Those include city manager Lynne Ladner and city clerk Cheryl Rabe.
The case seeks a declaration that the city’s practice of censorship violates the U.S. Constitution and an order preventing further enforcement.
It explains election workers like Wittman are independent contractors and not city employees, and the city ordered that they could not wear “any item” that “may appear to support any candidate or issue.”
Wittman explains she complied. And then refused orders to censor her message of faith.
After she was dismissed, the lawsuit says, she remained in the public viewing area until midnight. And it points out if the shirt was, indeed, “political speech,” she “should not have been allowed within 100 feet of the polling pursuant to Michigan election law.”
Also, another worker was allowed to wear a shirt stating “One Nation Under God,” without opposition.
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