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Calaveras County Sued By ACLU

San Andreas – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California filed a lawsuit  (Lavagetto v. County of Calaveras_Complaint )  centering on religion against Calaveras County yesterday in a state superior court.   The ACLU says the suit was filed on behalf of nine Calaveras County residents with various religious beliefs.

“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.

At issue is a resolution  (Calavera County Resolution) passed last summer by the board of supervisors recognizing the Christian faith-affiliated Calaveras Door of Hope, located in San Andreas, for its efforts to work with women “specifically those dealing with unplanned pregnancies.”  The ACLU charges that certain wording in the resolution unconstitutionally promotes one particular set of religious beliefs over all others.  The specific wording, that the ACLU is targeting regards the ministry’s work, which, as stated by the resolution, “strengthens 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.”

The resolution was passed twice by the board.  The first time was in April, when that wording stirred up controversy in the community.  Also, as previously reported, at the time of that vote, former Supervisor Merita Callaway abstained after voicing concern about the Board recognizing a particular religious point of view.  Additionally, the approval prompted a letter from the ACLU claiming 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 ACLU says 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, with Supervisors Callaway and Wright voting no and Ponte, Spellman and Edson in favor, to rescind the original resolution and replace it.  However, the ACLU says the new version was “virtually identical,” using the same wording that it says is unconstitutional.

MyMotherLode.com called and left a message for Calaveras County Administrative Officer Shirley Ryan asking for a comment in regards to the lawsuit, but have not received a call back.