Thursday, March 18, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

AG rules senator can
display fish on his door

By Mary Adamski


State Sen. David Matsuura's display of a Christian symbol on his office door at the state Capitol is not a violation of the state or U.S. Constitution, according to an opinion from the state attorney general's office.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "It would be unreasonable for a passerby to attribute the symbol on Sen. Matsuura's door to the Legislature or government as a whole when only Sen. Matsuura's door has the symbol," said Deputy Attorney General Girard Lau.

The opinion came in response to a complaint from Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church that the display violated the First Amendment ban against government establishment of religion. Sen. President Norman Mizuguchi sought the advice, which came in a letter Monday.

"It does not appear that the Establishment Clause requires its removal," Lau wrote Mizuguchi. "Requiring Sen. Matsuura to remove it when all other postings are allowed could raise free speech legal problems."

Matsuura (D, South Hilo, Puna) had affixed a four-inch brass figure of a fish, a symbol of Christianity, to his door. Since the complaint, several legislators have decorated their doors with religious symbols including the fish and the Jewish star of David as a gesture of support for Matsuura.

There are numerous other postings on legislators' doors, depicting products or events in their constituencies, or a political philosophy, or a seasonal decoration.

The deputy attorney general wrote: "If the Legislature or some other controlling state entity were to require Sen. Matsuura to take down his fish symbol, while allowing all other types of postings and messages to be displayed on senators' doors (except religious ones) the question of whether such a policy would violate the freedom of speech rights of Sen. Matsuura would be raised."

That's why everything must go, said Mitchell Kahle, president of Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church.

The organization took another tack Monday, claiming that all signs, plaques and posters on legislators' doors and walls violate Hawaii administrative rules. In a letter to Raymond H. Sato, comptroller with the state Department of Accounting and General Services, Kahle cited sections of the rules that prohibit posting of "any advertisements, signs, bulletins, announcements and the like" in state facilities unless authorized by the comptroller. The rules also prohibit "the installation of any memorial, monument or other commemorative piece."

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