Of Corn And The Constitution: Aumsville Celebrates The Former, But Not The Latter

"City employees have a right to keep their religious beliefs private,the city government should stick to running the city and should not use the city Web site to post the religious beliefs of employees."

There's nothing like a good, sweet ear of corn in the summertime, and according to the Web site of the city of Aumsville, Ore., "home of the Corn Festival," there's no place like Aumsville to "cruise-in for corn."

The site is really pretty standard for a small town. There's a picture of the new City Hall and Police Complex, and it has a calendar of events with seasonal inspirational quotes and pearls of wisdom such as "no matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats."

The site also has a section devoted to the "Aumsville Team Mission Statement" and the "Aumsville Staff Team Values." The mission statement asserts that the town employees use their "values to guide [their] behavior and decisions" and then lists among their values: faith, religion and belief in God.

To me, it couldn't be clearer: Aumsville city workers base their decisions on religion, and that's flatly unconstitutional.

According to the Statesman-Journal, Andy Antonson, a Buddhist resident of Aumsville, was understandably disconcerted with the statement. He viewed it as "supporting a single view regarding faith and exclude[ing] those who do not share this view." Consequently, he contacted the Columbia chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Antonson then contacted the city of Aumsville itself. In response to his concern, City Administrator Maryann Hills modified the Web site by adding a disclaimer at the end which reads in part: "The city of Aumsville is an equal opportunity employer. These are the personal values esteemed by some, and maybe not all, city employees."

Hills explained that during a voluntary team-building exercise, staff had the opportunity to discuss their values and morals. The city then chose to post the 13 most popular values on the Aumsville Web site.

"We felt staff had a right to have that opinion," Hills said.

Bruce Adams, president of AU's Columbia chapter, argues that while discussion of faith is not unusual or unconstitutional, publishing a public statement of faith on the Web site of a local government does indeed cross the line.

"City employees have a right to keep their religious beliefs private," he said. "The city government should stick to running the city and should not use the city Web site to post the religious beliefs of employees."

Adams is right; having faith in God is a personal choice. While all city employees -- and city residents -- have the right to value their religion, city employees do not have the right to use governmental resources to publicize that faith.

Posting "belief in God" to a city Web site as a governmental operating principle demotes all community residents who do not profess a belief in God -- or who profess a belief in gods or a less definite higher power -- to second-class citizenship. It makes it very clear that atheists or polytheists do not share Aumsville's values.

Aumsville should stick to valuing its sweet corn, and of course, as an American city, it should stick to valuing our Constitution.