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Mayor gets a warning letter from the ACLU

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The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to Mayor Frank Hirschi, cautioning him against mixing his religious views with his official duties.

But the group's attorney has declined to criticize a decision to make a general authority of the LDS Church the keynote speaker at Centerville's celebration this weekend of the city's 150th birthday.ACLU legal director Stephen Clark said he isn't troubled by the planned speech by Elder Alexander B. Morrison, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of Seventy.

"He's part of a broader community celebration. I don't think it shows any particular endorsement," Clark said.

However, Hirschi's previous actions, Clark said, have the ACLU more concerned and prompted a May 20 letter saying so.

In January, Hirschi proposed the city adopt a policy prohibiting city recreation activities on Monday evenings so they would not conflict with the LDS Church's family home evening program.

Then, in early April, candidates for Centerville's youth city council reported that Hirschi had inquired about their LDS Church involvement during selection interviews.

In his letter, Clark said Hirschi crossed the line that is supposed to separate church and state.

"Your admitted effort to adopt the dominant religion's practice of family home evening as official city policy and your numerous statements espousing your personal religious views on city letterhead obviously transgress the most fundamental boundaries between church and state. . . .

"This is not the only instance in which you have demonstrated either ignorance of or disregard for constitutional standards of appropriate conduct by public officials."

Hirschi, who has held office for only five months, admits his religious views played a role in his previous actions.

In regard to banning Monday night recreation, the request came from local LDS Church leaders representing the city's almost 80 percent LDS population.

And the selection interviews for the youth city council were more like brief conversations with each candidate as they stopped by his office to meet him, he said.

"I represent everybody," Hirschi said.

Yet even after the criticism, the mayor likely won't completely eliminate his religious views from public policy decisions.

"They live together," he said. "People still pray in Congress and the Legislature. I don't see anything wrong with that." Centerville also begins its council meetings with a prayer.

The value of religion, as seen by Hirschi, does not stop at his personal church doors, however.

"All religions work together for the good of a community," he said.

To that end, leaders of the two non-LDS churches in Cen-ter-ville credit the current administration with improving communications and attempting to involve their members in city events, such as the ses-qui-cen-ten-nial.

"Just recently, the city has started contacting us," said Gary Banman, pastor for First Baptist Church. Previously, he had to get information from the city's newsletter.

Other city leaders, although disturbed by earlier actions by the mayor, don't express concern about an LDS general authority speaking at the sesquicentennial celebration.

Council member Francine Luczak said Morrison's speech, titled "A Caring Community: Goodness in Action," delivers a theme she hopes residents take to heart.

"If there were errors made, they were made in complete innocence," Luczak said of Hirschi's prior actions criticized in the ACLU letter. "The sign of a good leader is that he can admit his mistakes and move on."

Although she doesn't expect the mayor to make any more mistakes, she will watch for any slip.

"I want my mayor to be my mayor, and my bishop to be my bishop," she said. "If I go to a meeting, I want to know if it's a church meeting or a government meeting."