Ohioan Eliot Kalman intention was good but his actions in protesting an obvious church and state violation was wrong. Kalman put large stickers over a church directory in a county courthouse. While law breaking can sometimes help draw attention to civil rights violations, vandalism is almost never a good way to protest. Damaging property doesn’t win you any friends and makes the people who are the target of the protest more defensive.
An Athens man is scheduled for a pre-trial in Athens County Municipal Court this morning (Monday) over his protest of the church directory sign on the Athens County Courthouse. The man admits placing stickers on the sign advocating the constitutional separation between church and state.
Eliot Kalman, 69, was arrested by courthouse constables Oct. 28 after being caught on a county video camera placing stickers on the sign. He was charged with a third-degree misdemeanor for criminal mischief. He pleaded not guilty to those charges, and said Friday he intends to represent himself when the matter goes to trial this morning.
Kalman, a longtime advocate for separation of church and state and former president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, provided documents that show he has been in communication with the Athens County Commissioners since 2011 expressing his opposition to the church directory sign.
The sign lists 40 different churches and religious groups throughout Athens County.
To be clear, the directory of churches is in prominent location in the Athens County Courthouse – which is public property. Athens, Ohio is home to Ohio University so it is a touch on the educated liberal side but the city is still in the heart of Ohio’s Bible belt. Many recent church and state violations, that have made the news, have taken place in Southern Ohio.
This isn’t really any different then having a Ten Commandment plaque up on the wall. Of course the county uses a couple different arguments to defend keeping the church directory. They claim they don’t control the content of the directory nor is any tax dollars used for it. The county prosecutor also used the ‘it has been there for so long‘ argument.
By vandalizing the sign Eliot Kalman makes it harder for his protest to change anything. He ends up with a police record and the people violating the 1st amendment just dig in to defend their violation.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying one should never break the law when trying to bring attention to violations of one civil rights but vandalism never seems to be a good protest no matter what the issue is.
I like Kalman’s idea of including the 1st amendment information on the directory and he might have influenced a change had he not made them stickers that defaced the sign.
Athens County might not have had a problem had it not called the display case a “Church Directory” and actually included other information inside it besides just information on local churches. Claiming it has a secular purpose is just silly based on the facts. The county can and does control what is put up at the courthouse and if they say they don’t they are lying.
Contact the Athens County Commissioners and let them know why a church directory is wrong for the county courthouse and how it can be fixed. Please be respectful if you do contact them.
Lenny Eliason firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Chmiel email@example.com
Charles Adkins firstname.lastname@example.org