A nationally known legal team is asking a government-owned facility in Michigan for a written apology to two residents of a senior center whose personal comments about Christmas were censored.
The letter from First Liberty Institute asks for the apology to Joan Wilson and Wilma Wells, residents of the Kalkaska Senior Living Center in Kalkaska, Michigan.
During the holiday season, the seniors read to children who visited from the related Kalkaska Memorial Health Center’s Child Development Center and Preschool’s Great Start Readiness Program.
The letter explains: “As part of this visit, the elderly residents of the Assisted Living Center were given opportunities to read Christmas stories to the students. One resident read Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ without incident. Wilma Wells, another resident of the Assisted Living Center, read a book about Christmas traditions, and after reading the book, asked the children if they knew why we celebrate Christmas.”
However, an unidentified teacher accompanying the students interjected, stating, “We won’t go there, Wilma.”
Then Wilson started reading “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When, during the “much-beloved story, Linus gives a historical account of the Christmas story,” the teacher “abruptly interrupted Joan, canceled the visitation, and escorted the children out before Joan could finish.”
The letter also asks that the facility institute policies ensuring that its employees will abide by laws protecting the First Amendment rights of its senior residents.
The senior center declined to respond to a WND request for comment.
“There’s nothing quite like a government Grinch crushing the spirit of Christmas,” said Keisha Russell, associate counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Our clients were simply exercising their constitutionally protected rights by reading a much beloved Christmas story to children when they were silenced. KMHC needs to ensure that the rights of its residents are protected and issue an apology.”
First Liberty argued the residents are private citizens whose speech and religious rights are protected by the First Amendment.
It also argues that when a government employee, such as the CDCP teacher, censors or bans certain speakers or speech purely because of its religious motivation, it constitutes illegal “viewpoint discrimination.”
“As a government-owned facility, the Kalkaska Memorial Health Center is subject to the constraints of the U.S. Constitution through the 14th Amendment. Here, the CDCP teacher’s actions constitute unlawful discrimination and violate the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution,” the letter said.
“Joan and Wilma are private citizens whose speech, including religious speech, is fully protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses. … Here, the teacher allowed those who spoke about Christmas in secular terms to speak unimpeded, but abridged the speech of those who would [speak] to the historical significance of Christmas’s origins.
“Christmas may be a religious holiday for many,” the letter noted, but “it is also the commemoration of a recorded historical event, celebrated even by non-Christians.”
First Liberty said that without such remedies, it would pursue appropriate legal action.