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Texas police sergeant loses religious-ornament suit

By The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas — A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former police sergeant who was fired for wearing a cross on his uniform.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans found the claim by George Daniels that his First Amendment rights were violated was without merit.

Daniels was fired from the Arlington Police Department in September 1998 for wearing a half-inch gold cross on his collar. The department's policy says that any unauthorized pins must be approved by the police chief, who had specifically forbidden Daniels to wear the Christian symbol.

"A police department does not violate the First Amendment when it bars officers from adorning their uniforms with individually chosen adornments, even when those decorations include symbols with religious significance," the panel said in its ruling.

"I think that we said all along that the uniform is not a billboard of expression. We didn't view it as a First Amendment or freedom-of-religion issue," said Sgt. James Hawthorne, an Arlington Police Department spokesman.

The Rutherford Institute had sued the police department on behalf of Daniels, a 13-year veteran.

One of Daniels' attorneys, John Whitehead, says serious consideration will now be given to appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We're saddened by the decision because we think it's an important case in the First Amendment principle," Whitehead said. "Our investigation determined [there were] other symbols that officers wore on their uniforms. [Daniels] was discriminated against."

But Hawthorne said Daniels "was given several alternatives that would have allowed him to express his faith." He was told he could wear the cross on a necklace, a bracelet or beneath his uniform, Hawthorne said.

Daniels also had declined an offer to transfer to a plainclothes job, which would have allowed him to keep wearing the Christian symbol.

Hawthorne said that some segments of society might be offended by the cross and that police have to be seen as fair and neutral.

"We felt all along that we were right," he said, adding the appeals ruling was vindication of a sort.

The Virginia-based Rutherford Institute is a conservative group that defends people who claim they have suffered religious discrimination.


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