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A Stockton, Calif., hospital has relented over some of the punishment imposed on a military veteran who was suspended, but still is insisting his offense – using “God Bless America” in the signature block of his emails – has to go.

That’s according to officials with Pacific Justice Institute, which is working on the case involving Boots Hawks.

WND reported earlier in the week on the development of the case. Hawks was suspended when officials objected to his use of the patriotic phrase in the signature block of his emails. They said he was insubordinate when he agreed to remove the line, but also said he would consult with a lawyer over his legal rights.

On Friday, officials with PJI said the hospital “retreated on the reasons for their actions, while continuing to insist that “God Bless America’ be banished from emails.”

The legal team explained, “A Dameron [Hospital] human resources official noted that they no longer considered Mr. Hawks to have been insubordinate, while leaving open the possibility that he may have been disruptive and disrespectful. The hospital also agreed to restore his pay for the two days he was placed on administrative leave, while awkwardly insisting that administrative leave implied no punishment and carried no stigma. The hospital continues to insist that Mr. Hawks refrain from including ‘God Bless America’ at the bottom of his e-mails.”

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said, “We view the hospital’s response as a retreat from some of their earlier positions, but clearly they have a long way to go toward making this right. We will continue to press for fair and equal treatment of Mr. Hawks’ speech. No one – least of all a veteran – should be censored for fear that someone will be offended by their patriotism.”

WND’s earlier report documented how the 10-year employee was suspended, even though he obeyed an order to remove the offending phrase.

Dacus said earlier, “Rarely do we see something as shocking as supervisors placing a hard-working military veteran on leave right before Veterans’ Day for saying something patriotic.

“The hospital’s actions were outrageous and illegal. We expect a swift apology and full restoration of Mr. Hawks’ rights,” he said.

The hospital did not respond to a WND request for comment.

A letter from PJI Staff Attorney Matthew McReynolds to the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Janine Hawkins, argued the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing act bar workplace discrimination on the basis of religion.

“In light of the widespread dissemination of a plethora of philosophical statements among hospital employees and management, the directive that Mr. Hawks delete ‘God Bless America’ is indefensible,” McReynolds said.

He explained that the hospital ordered the censorship, and when Hawks complied, he said he wanted to consult with legal counsel.

That apparently, according to the hospital at the time, constituted “insubordination.”

“It is untenable and insulting to claim that his compliance and consultation with legal counsel is insubordinate. On the contrary, it is common sense,” the letter said.

McReynolds noted that Hawks has been a dedicated employee for 10 years, earning such distinctions as ‘Employee of the Year’ for his work in quality assurance.

Prior to joining the hospital staff, Hawks spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of sergeant first class. PJI is demanding that supervisors rescind their disciplinary action and their censorship.

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