Arizona mayor issues ‘Bible Week’ declaration

Monday, December 4, 2000

Calling the Bible a book that “has motivated many acts of compassion
and charity,” Gilbert, Ariz., Mayor Cynthia Dunham recently issued a “Bible
Week” proclamation after reaching an agreement with the American Civil
Liberties Union.

Reading the statement at a Nov. 14 town meeting, Dunham proclaimed
Nov. 19-26 as Bible Week, a Gilbert tradition that prompted the Arizona chapter
of the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit against the mayor and the town in 1998.
The ACLU challenged the proclamation as a violation of the First Amendment
guarantee of separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver dismissed the ACLU’s suit against
Dunham in October 1999. But on Aug. 28, 2000, Silver reversed her dismissal,
saying “residents of Gilbert, who, upon issuance of the Bible Week
proclamation, are made to feel like outsiders, unwelcome in their own hometown,
are directly affected by the proclamation and have standing to challenge

On Oct. 24 both parties entered into a settlement agreement allowing
Dunham to make the annual proclamation as long as she does not urge people to
read the Bible or describe the book as “the foundational document of
Judeo-Christian principles.” Dunham also is barred from planning any events in
conjunction with the announcement.

ACLU attorney Paul Eckstein says the organization does not plan to
seek a court order to stop Dunham from making future Bible Week proclamations,
provided that she works within the restrictions of the settlement

“We expect the mayor to act in good faith and have no reason to expect
that she will not,” Eckstein said.

Walter M. Weber, an attorney for the American Center for Law and
Justice who is representing Dunham, said he is pleased with the outcome of the
case. “It has been our belief since the beginning that the mayor acted properly
in issuing a proclamation for Bible Week and we are confident that this
agreement will ensure that her right to do so remains intact,” Weber said in a
news release.

Weber describes the mayor’s proclamation as merely a goodwill gesture
by a public official.

“This is something that looks like it has more significance than it
really does,” Weber said in an interview. “It’s something that doesn’t require
a whole lot from the government but means a lot to people who request it. This
is simply a ceremonial proclamation.”

As the mayor made her proclamation, nine atheists from areas other
than Gilbert protested outside Town Hall, reported The Arizona Republic. “Our Gilbert members were
afraid to come,” Phoenix atheist Monty Gaither said. “They were afraid their
neighbors would find out.”

During the proclamation, Dunham said “the Bible has been a constant
source of moral and spiritual guidance for many Americans throughout history”
and “the Bible is important to many residents in Gilbert and serves as one of
their guides to be better citizens of the community.”

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