Thursday, March 4, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
This Christian symbol, attached to the door of Sen. David
Matsuura at the state Capitol, is the source of a complaint by
Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church.

Religious symbol
on senator’s door
nets complaint

Sen. David Matsuura's Christian
fish symbol belongs in his
'private space,' a
group says

By Mary Adamski


A state senator's decision to attach a Christian symbol to his office door at the state Capitol has brought a complaint and threat of a lawsuit by Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church.

The organization planned a news conference this morning outside the office of Sen. David Matsuura (D, South Hilo, Puna) to point out the offending brass decoration, a simple outline of a fish, a traditional and widely used Christian symbol.

"By placing his symbol outside the public office, and in the Capitol corridor, he is putting a religious symbol on public display," said the group's president, Mitchell Kahle. "We are opposed to what he has decided to do, advertise his religion.

"We are not opposed to any official keeping anything on his desk that is an expression of his beliefs. I am sure there are religious symbols in a number of private offices. All he has to do is put it in his personal, private space," said Kahle.

Kahle's organization was instrumental in forcing the military to remove a cross from the Camp Smith hillside, saying it violated the First Amendment principle of separation.

Matsuura did not respond to requests for comment. But in a Feb. 26 letter to Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, Matsuura asked that "the state and the attorney general's office stand down and let me handle this unfortunate situation. This is a battle I choose to fight on my own terms based on my freedom of choice and my steadfast beliefs."

Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church also complained about another senator for using state facilities to promote his own prayer breakfast for lawmakers.

Kahle said Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua-Salt Lake) violated the constitutional separation of government and religion by using state computers and printers to produce invitations to the Christian-oriented event and by having a state-paid employee in his office take reservation calls.

The breakfast was scheduled to go on at 8 a.m. today in a Senate conference room.

"I'm not the type to be confrontational, so I said I will have the RSVP go to my home phone," Sakamoto said. "When I sent an invitation, it was on plain paper, and the RSVP was to my secretary here at a state phone number."

"I periodically invite some friends from the Senate and the House and some others to have fruit and doughnuts and pray together," he said. "I don't believe separation of church and state means what Mitch (Kahle) seems to imply it means."

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