ACLU Lawsuit Charges Calaveras County with Unconstitutionally Promoting One Particular Religious Belief

July Resolution Commends Local Christian Ministry for inviting women to "to test and see for themselves the many blessings that can come from living the teachings of Christ."

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San Andreas – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California today filed a lawsuit against the county of Calaveras, charging the board of supervisors with passing a resolution last summer that unconstitutionally promotes one particular set of religious beliefs over all others.

Filed in state superior court on behalf of nine Calaveras County residents with various religious beliefs. The lawsuit charges that the resolution runs afoul of the fundamental constitutional principle that the government should not promote one particular religious belief over others because, among other things, it recognizes a local Christian ministry’s work in “strengthen(ing) the lives of women and young women in Calaveras County by inviting them to test and see for themselves the many blessings that can come from living the teachings of Christ.”

“Prohibiting the government from promoting one particular set of religious beliefs helps ensure that all Americans are free to exercise the religion of their choice, or no religion at all,” said Novella Coleman, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “While the board of supervisors can certainly recognize the charity work of a religious organization, the board cannot expressly promote any one particular religious viewpoint.”

On April 8, 2014, without first allowing any opportunity for public comment, the board of supervisors approved and adopted the resolution. Former Supervisor Merita Callaway abstained from the vote, saying at the time that she was “being asked to recognize a specific religious point of view and I do not feel that is our role.”

In May, the ACLU sent a letter to the supervisors on behalf of 20 concerned county residents explaining that the resolution violated the California Constitution and that the board had violated the Brown Act by failing to allow for public comment before a vote on the resolution was taken. The Calaveras County Counsel responded to the letter by saying that the board would consider “rescission and possible re-adoption of” the resolution.

In July, the board voted 3-2 to rescind the original resolution and replace it with a virtually identical one that did not correct the original resolution’s constitutional problems.

“No one should ever be made to feel like an outsider in their own community simply because they don’t share the same religious beliefs as many of their neighbors,” said Cindy Lavagetto, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the former deputy executive officer of the California state Senate.

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Lavagetto v. County of Calaveras

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