Employees have a choice: get paid to go to the mosque and be proselytized by Muslims, or work. via Linn County attorney questions Mosque lecture – TheGazette. h/t halalporkshop
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden is all for the county’s diversity education initiative for its employees.
Even so, Vander Sanden is questioning the county Diversity Committee’s invitation to all county employees to take paid time off to attend a lecture during the workday on “Intro to Islam, Including Information about Ramadan, and Muslim History in Iowa.”
The hourlong sessions on June 3 and June 4 will be conducted by Imam Taha Tawil and Sara Tawil at the Mother Mosque of America, the first permanent structure to be built specifically to serve as a mosque in the United States, at 1335 Ninth St. NW, Cedar Rapids.
Vander Sanden said the event can be viewed in a legal sense as government promotion of religion, which would be a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In essence, they are promoting a proposal where government employees are getting paid time off to go to a religious facility and learn about the history of that religion,” Vander Sanden said. “It doesn’t matter what the religion is.
“… I can’t state unequivocally that this is outside the bounds of the First Amendment. But it certainly is in that murky area. And I believe that the average person might look at this and consider it to be an improper use of taxpayer money.”
Lisa Powell, Linn County human resources director and a Diversity Committee member, on Tuesday said that her office came up with the idea of a Diversity Committee for county employees about three years ago. It’s an idea that she said has been strongly supported by the Linn County Board of Supervisors.
The committee tries to sponsor about three or four training events a year, and she said past events have included in-house training on stereotyping and labeling and on diversity of thought.
There has been a program on black history, and last year the county sponsored the movie, “42,” about black baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
Powell noted participation is voluntary.
“If you’re interested, if you want to be educated, fine,” she said. “But we don’t promote one thing over another. It’s just an opportunity to learn about something you might not know anything about.”
Powell said a few employees have questioned the June program at the mosque, wondering if it was promoting a particular religion.
“Which is not the case, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.
Supervisor Ben Rogers on Tuesday said he appreciated Vander Sanden’s comments, but he said he expected the scheduled June program at the mosque for county employees to take place.
“Really, this is an opportunity for employees, if they choose, to learn about a diverse population in Linn County that we serve,” Rogers said.
“It’s not favoring a religion. It’s not putting beliefs onto people. It’s just an opportunity, if our employees choose, to learn about diverse groups in Linn County.”
Rogers said the county’s public health director, Pramod Dwivedi, and his wife, Seema, are from India, and Seema Dwivedi gave a “fascinating” talk as part of the Diversity program recently to county employees about India and the country’s culture and way of life.
“This included an open dialogue on her religion, Hinduism,” Rogers said. “Linn County has a considerable Indian population, and the information she provided gave a deeper insight and perspective on what it means to be Indian in Iowa.
Rogers said he thought Vander Sanden’s concern was more about “optics” that anything else.
“I respect Jerry’s opinion, but we feel it (the June event) is appropriate,” Rogers said.
Vander Sanden likened the county’s plan to give county employees paid time off to attend a session at a mosque on Islam to the recent controversy at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department over Christian imagery and a Biblical verse on the bucket of the department’s 100-foot ladder truck.
The department removed the image, which had been in place since 1997, after someone complained that it favored one religion. The executive director of the city’s Civil Rights Commission said removal of the image was a good choice.
“This is something like that,” Vander Sanden said.
“I know it’s a voluntary option,” he continued. “But on the other hand, when you get right down to it, it is taxpayer-funded, and in that sense, I believe it can be viewed as government promotion of an event that has a religious purpose.
“… I view the role of our office is to counsel our government leaders to act in a certain way that avoids unnecessary litigation.”
…not to promote Islam at taxpayer expense. Iowan taxpayers should necessitate the necessary litigation.
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