Arizona ACLU Warns Against "Character Cities"

September 2, 1999

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

GILBERT, AZ -- Gilbert Mayor Cynthia Dunham got another sermon this week from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona about separation of church and state, the Arizona Republic reported today.

With an ACLU lawsuit pending in federal court over her push to declare a Bible Week last November, Dunham proposed a resolution Tuesday to declare Gilbert Arizona's first "City of Character."

However, according to the paper, she canceled the vote hours after ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Eleanor Eisenberg faxed a letter to the town pointing out that the proposed plan is based on a national "Character City" program, which comes from the Institute for Basic Living Principles, an Illinois-based Christian organization.

That group touts its work as a "Biblical mandate" and its financial philosophy as "trusting God to provide operating funds." Eisenberg told Dunham that the institute's programs "may push a religious agenda on Gilbert residents that violates the Constitution."

According to the paper, the mayor said Wednesday that she will continue to pursue the character resolution while a committee of community leaders discusses alternative programs and makes sure that no religious language slips into educational materials.

"If Gilbert leaders feel that character building is a necessary municipal function, they should have done their homework to check potential programs for religious purposes or agendas," the ACLU's Eisenberg told the paper.

Republican State Senator David Petersen's efforts to push the teaching of morals and values, or character education, through the Legislature failed earlier this year when the governor vetoed a bill that would have required school site councils to consider the program.

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