A Topeka officeholder and registered nurse square off on the matter of a religious poster hanging in a public building

Christian and pagan, God or goddess 

A Topeka officeholder and registered nurse square off on the matter of a religious poster hanging in a public building

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To her surprise, Schmidt received a follow-up letter from Cline on official Shawnee County letterhead. In it, Cline reiterated her statements questioning Schmidt's patriotism: "I understood you to say you are a pagan, do not believe in God, and refuse to recognize or honor the American flag and our national motto, all while claiming to be an American citizen. Your statements surprised me and caused me to question your patriotism and wonder just how much of an American you really are."

Cline also included a statement Schmidt feels condemns her: "... for those who live as if there is no God, for the sake of their eternity, they'd better be right!"

"She's telling me that I am going to go to hell," says Schmidt, "and then signs it, 'Sincerely, Rita Cline.'"

Cline's letter also alludes to her intentions in hanging the posters: "... because the ACLU and a few other God-less organizations have been somewhat successful in having the Ten Commandments removed from public buildings, I have chosen to frame and hang ... the national motto ... I dare you, the ACLU, or any other organization to try and force me to remove it from the offices."

Schmidt faxed Cline's letter to the ACLU's regional office in Kansas City, Mo. Says Nathanson, "I've got 20 messages a day waiting for me on voice mail." But when she received the fax from Schmidt, Nathanson was stunned.

"The combination of the hanging of the poster and the letter that was sent to Ms. Schmidt was clearly a First Amendment violation; I can't imagine anything more inappropriate as commingling government with establishment of religion. If the government had hung the poster and had taken no other action, it might not have caused this reaction, but this is a different case entirely," Nathanson says.

In a letter dated May 12, Nathanson and executive director of the organization's Kansas City, Mo., office Dick Kurtenbach asked Cline to remove the posters and to "cease and desist from using your government office to disseminate your religious beliefs. You must stop pursuing a public policy that equates patriotism with faith in God or any other religious tenets."

According to Nathanson, Cline's letter to Schmidt "speaks for itself" and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. "The Establishment Clause says the government cannot be involved in the establishment of religion," Nathanson says.

"This is just a situation that we felt we had no choice but to take action," Nathanson says, adding that in pursuing the case, "We made sure that we were not just having a knee-jerk reaction to that dare."

On May 20, the ACLU's local board of directors met and authorized Nathanson to pursue legal action against Cline.

Cline says she's confident that her cause would prevail over any litigation from the ACLU. At first she was even eager to take the issue to court, saying, "I am just dying for them to file this lawsuit. If they can't come up with the money I might help them scrape up the filing fee, and I would strongly consider countersuing. And if I was awarded any money I would give the money to charity."

A few days later, Cline reconsidered. On May 22, she sent another letter to the ACLU and to Schmidt inviting them to meet with her and her pastor, Gordon Shipley, to "dine as my guest and discuss your allegations and requests."

The ACLU declined the invitation and advised Schmidt to refer Cline back to them if the treasurer tried to contact her again. "For (Cline's) own protection, and for the sake of legal propriety, she needs to communicate with us through her legal counsel.... We would be more than willing to negotiate; we just have to do it though the legal parameters," Nathanson wrote in an e-mail response.

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