July 30, 2010

After second thought, Montgomery County won't descriminate against Christian

Montgomery County, Maryland has a long and distinguished history of opposing its own citizens’ exercise of their First Amendment rights. Between the county’s long-running and unsuccessful fight to discriminate against an after-school Bible club, its school curriculum that disparaged denominations that considered homosexual conduct to be contrary to Scripture (until a judge held that the county’s anti-religious fervor was so strong that it actually violated the Establishment Clause), and its ongoing attempt to force pregnancy resource centers to tell women they should probably go elsewhere, this DC suburban county is not likely to win any awards for its protection of free speech and religious liberty. As a Washington Post writer said, in liberal and wealthy Montgomery County, “separation of church and state is virtually a religion.” But with respect to its treatment of one Christian owner of a childrens’ museum in Bethesda, even Montgomery County is acknowledging that it went too far.

In June, a Montgomery County elementary school decided that it would cancel a field trip to a privately owned children’s museum in Bethesda. When the owner of the Be With Me Playseum, who had expended time and money in preparation for the visit, asked the principal of the school for an explanation, he informed her that statements on the Playseum’s website were the problem and that if she would remove them, the field trip could be reinstated. What were the offensive website comments? Under its “Values” the Playseum lists the following: “Life – Every child is God’s gift to this Earth” and more damningly, “God – Giver of breath and we endeavor to honor Him in all of our affairs.” These were deemed both offensively pro-life and too religious. Ms. Seebachan refused to scrub her website of these statements. “I said, I'm sorry, I won't take my values off my Web site. … I didn’t know it was a sin saying ‘God’ in America.” And although the County’s attorneys now dispute what the principal told Ms. Seebachan, an acting county superintendent told the Washington Post, “Based on what I saw on the Web site, if we had to come down on one side or the other of the church-state issue, I have no idea where we would have gone."

Evidently, after consultation with counsel, the county now knows “where [it] would [go]” in the future and has decided that there is no “church-state issue” with a public school patronizing a business operated by an admitted Christian. In response to a letter sent by an ADF allied attorney, Tim Bosson, and Rob Showers, both of the firm Simms & Showers, the county’s attorneys now state that we can “be assured that it is not the position of the school system or Westbrook Elementary School that the personal religious references on your client’s website provides a basis for denying patronage of her business.” In most places, this is hardly a newsworthy acknowledgment. But then again, Montgomery County isn’t like most places. While it is disappointing that the county’s hyperactive suspicion of all things religious denied these students their field trip and besmirched Ms. Seebachan and her Playseum, perhaps future classes of Montgomery County kids will now be able to experience and learn at her museum. SOURCE: Christian Post

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