Friday, March 12, 1999

By George Lee, Star-Bulletin
Religious symbols representing Judaism,
Christianity and Islam hang on the office door
of state Sen. Sam Slom on Monday afternoon.

Several legislators
display religious symbols
in show of solidarity
with embattled senator

By Mary Adamski


Legislature '99 The tilapia are gone from the reflecting pools, but fish abound at the state Capitol.

At least five legislators have added a fish emblem to their office doors in support of Sen. David Matsuura (D, South Hilo, Puna) since he was threatened with a suit by Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church for displaying a Christian fish symbol.

Rep. Mark Moses (R, Kapolei) and Sen. Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley), who are Jewish, are displaying the Star of David.

Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) put a fish symbol on the wall beside his office door as a show of support for Matsuura.

"I think it's unfounded," Kawamoto said about the complaint. "We're all adults; we can choose what we want to choose to believe." Slom said, "I view it as exercising the Constitution."

His door is festooned with the Jewish symbol, a Christian fish, a cross, a small Buddha and a cutout of a crescent moon representing Islam. "I put it up in support for Matsuura, support for the First Amendment.

"We start every (session) day with a prayer where we invoke the deity," said Slom. "Whether it's a priest, a Buddhist monk, a rabbi, the theme is generally the same: seeking divine guidance."

The Republican lawmaker made a speech on the Senate floor last Friday criticizing Senate President Norman Mizuguchi for seeking an attorney general ruling about Matsuura's display.

The state attorney has not yet responded, according to a Mizuguchi spokeswoman.

Mitch Kahle, president of the Citizens for Separation of State and Church, said last week the group will sue Matsuura for violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government establishment of religion.

"The state of Hawaii may also be named in the suit if the attorney general does not take appropriate and timely steps to remove the offending symbol," Kahle said.

The group has hired an attorney but has not yet moved to file in federal court, he said yesterday. "We respond to what our members complain about," said Kahle.

Kahle said he is unlikely to add the other lawmakers as defendants because "it is clear to us with the timing, they are political statements. They can take political stands."

There would be no objection if Matsuura's fish were inside his office, but by putting it on the outside, in a public corridor of a government building, it violates the law, he said.

Matsuura said Kahle, by threatening to sue, "is using threats to take away my First Amendment rights. If I would take it down, it would mean anyone could use threats and intimidation to violate First Amendment rights.

"I wanted to put that little 4-inch fish up. If I put up a big cross, that would be 'in your face' kind of stuff." Matsuura said he has had many supportive calls and messages from the public.

He said his campaign literature included his participation in New Hope Chapel, Good News Jail Ministries and the Salvation Army advisory board.

The fish symbol is also on the doors of Reps. Michael Kahikina (D, Nanakuli), Ezra Kanoho (D, Lihue) and Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona).

Star-Bulletin reporter Mike Yuen contributed to this report.

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