SAN FRANCISCO, May 2 (Reuters) A US public agency acted properly in telling a evangelical Christian social worker that he cannot display religious items in an area where he counsels welfare recipients, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Daniel Berry worked for the Tehama County Department of Social Services in far northern California and was reprimanded in 2001 for displaying a Bible and a religious sign at his desk visible to clients.
The reprimand note said he could display religious items in private work space but not in areas the agency's clients could see. Berry sued in 2002, claiming the agency violated his Constitutional rights to free speech.
Upholding a lower court decision, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled against Berry, saying he was not improperly restricted as he could have kept a Bible in a desk drawer without implying a governmental backing of religion.
''The Department has successfully navigated between the Scylla of not respecting its employee's right to the free exercise of his religion and the Charybdis of violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by appearing to endorse religion,'' Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote for a three-judge panel, referring to opposing dangers in a narrow strait in Greek mythology.
The establishment clause sets a wall between church and state that is a hallmark of American democracy. The court decision noted Berry was free to discuss religion with co-workers, just not with clients.
REUTERS DH RK0452