PAC opposing Casper says mayor’s Facebook statements are untrue

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IDAHO FALLS — Mayor Rebecca Casper is being accused of making false statements in a post about religion on her Facebook page Sunday evening.

The message was in response to a radio advertisement by Businesses for Growth, a political action committee opposed to Casper’s re-election.

Part of the advertisement, which has been running since the day before Thanksgiving, says:

Is God allowed inside city limits? Has political correctness gone too far? Mayor Casper’s department heads have been told not to have Christmas parties but to have holiday parties instead. And city staff have been advised to stop telling each other Merry Christmas. Only Idaho Falls goes to that extreme.

Almost all Idaho cities have the phrase “So help me God” in the police officer’s oath of office. Idaho Falls has removed that phrase. The Idaho State Legislature and majority of Idaho City Councils begin each session with prayer. Most that do not have prayer begin with a moment of silence. But Idaho Falls does not allow either.

In her Facebook post, Casper accused the PAC of “continuing to spread half-truths and misinformation to upset and confuse local voters” but Businesses for Growth chairman Adam Frugoli says every word in the ad is true.

“We’ve reviewed this over and over for the last month and a half and worked very hard on it to make sure that it’s very accurate and very true,” Frugoli says. “She’s been trying to discredit us from the beginning and there aren’t any half-truths about what we’ve said.”

In her response, Casper disputes the claim that city staff have been advised to stop telling each other Merry Christmas.

“City Staff have never been told what to say to each other…But when it comes to official city speech or positions on issues, there is a difference. City leaders have a responsibility to ensure that official communication is always clear and not likely to get us into a lawsuit…We print “happy holidays” to include those in our midst who do not celebrate Christmas. It also allows us to include New Years, Kwanza, Hanukah, etc. with one phrase rather than many. Again, it also avoids the potential claim that public funds are being used to promote a particular faith…Why would anyone want to knowingly give offense to or exclude people? In short, people may say what they want, but official city communication will strive to be inclusive and legally defensible.”

Frugoli points to a statement made by city spokeswoman Kerry Hammon in a Nov. 16 EastIdahoNews.com story that he says contradicts the mayor’s words:

“I am not aware of a policy that exists pertaining to the use of that exact language – ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Christmas,’” Hammon said. “However, it is recommended that city staff use the terminology ‘Happy Holidays’ while at the workplace or when communicating on behalf of the city because it is all-inclusive, non-discriminatory and consistent with the City’s discrimination policy.”

Casper also wrote that Businesses for Growth has stated city department heads have been told not to have parties. But the radio ad does not use that terminology; rather, it says, “Mayor Casper’s department heads have been told not to have Christmas parties but to have holiday parties instead.”

Casper admits Christmas parties are not held at city hall to “not give offense.”

“This is wise because it is inappropriate to use public funds to promote a celebration of a single faith. Any good mayor should understand that kind of risk and seek to avoid it whenever possible,” she wrote.

Even though the White House and other federal, state and local government agencies hold Christmas parties, Idaho Falls city attorney Randy Fife told EastIdahoNews.com they are prohibited in the city so employees do not feel “uncomfortable, left out, embarrassed, unappreciated, or not included.”

“The City, as a government and an organization that seeks to remain accessible and responsive to those it represents, does not make the assumptions that City employees agree with all religious practices or expression. For those reasons and based upon case law and precedent, the City does not agree that City parties that highlight or support particular religious beliefs are appropriate,” Fife said.

When asked what case law and precedent Fife was referring to, he responded “the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

“This is nothing more than political correctness and the mayor’s response shows this,” Frugoli says.

Casper also addresses the true statement made in the ad concerning the oath police officers take when being sworn in.

“Almost all Idaho cities have the phrase ‘So help me God’ in the police officer’s oath of office. Idaho Falls has removed that phrase,” the ad states.

Casper responds, “The oaths we administer are the ones the state has prescribed. The state last edited its loyalty oath in 1983. The Idaho State Police removed the phrase ‘So help me God’ from their swearing-in a couple of years ago. With that said, an officer or other city official can add the words ‘So help me God’ if they wish. Again, free speech rights allow individuals to do that.”

Multiple police officers and police leaders say they were unaware they could include “So help me God” while being sworn-in and they did not know of any instances where this option was offered.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” one longtime police leader says.

In a message to EastIdahoNews.com Monday night, Casper says, to her recollection, this issue has never come up before and she was unable to name any officer who had asked for the “So help me God” wording in their loyalty oath.

“Given that I, and probably many others, just learned that this is an issue for some, the option will need to be communicated,” Casper said. “The important thing to remember is that the loyalty oath that is used is the one prescribed by state law. For future swearing-in ceremonies, I will follow the guidance from the Association of Idaho Cities.”

Casper noted the AIC administered training on this topic last week, “perhaps inspired by the dialogue in our community.”

Frugoli says his goal has been to spread truth during this campaign, even if others accuse him of being too negative.

“They say it’s a negative campaign. If Mayor Casper had a more positive record to work with, we wouldn’t be bothering with any of this,” Frugoli says.

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