STOCKTON, Calif. — A hospital in California is standing by its refusal to allow the use of the phrase ‘God bless America’ in email signatures, issuing a new policy that requires all employees to utilize a standardized signature block without exception.
As previously reported, Dameron Hospital employee Boots Hawks was called into his supervisor’s office last November and asked to remove the phrase from his email, which is one of three that he posts with his signature. “Excuses only satisfy the person making them” and “Change is either induced by inspiration or desperation” are also displayed on each email.
“I believe in America, and I believe in God so strongly,” Hawks told local television station KCRA. “And I believe that America needs a blessing.”
While Hawks complied with the directive, he also told his supervisor that he wanted to consult with an attorney about his rights.
Much to his surprise, Hawks was put on leave for “insubordination.” He returned to work this Wednesday to find that the combination on his lock had been changed and his computer password had been suspended.
As Hawks had contacted the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the organization sent a letter to the hospital, demanding that it recant its actions. It noted that Hawks has been on staff for ten years and was once named “Employee of the Year.” He had served twenty years in the Army, earning the rank of Sergeant First Class.
As reports of the incident broke nationwide, the hospital partially recanted the reasons for putting Hawks on leave. A Dameron human resource official advised PJI that Mr. Hawks was no longer considered to be insubordinate, but stated that he may have been “disrespectful.” The hospital agreed to restore the lost pay from the time when Hawks was on leave, and advised that no punishment would be implied.
However, Dameron officials continued to insist that Mr. Hawks refrain from including “God bless America” in his email signature. As it had not rescinded the ban in the months following the incident, attorneys with PJI filed a formal charge of discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. A complaint was also filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Christian legal organization additionally pursued litigation, serving hospital officials with right-to-sue notices.
But following the complaints and legal proceedings, Dameron Hospital notified its employees that it had implemented a new policy that required all staff to use a standardized signature block without deviation.
“It is astounding that Dameron Hospital believes it should respond to charges of illegal discrimination and censorship with even more censorship. They apparently still believe that ‘God Bless America’ should be banned, and they are willing to institute new regulations muzzling all employees in order to accomplish that goal,” PJI President Brad Dacus commented in a statement this week. “To date, the hospital has never apologized to Sgt. Hawks for suspending him over Veterans’ Day weekend, and it has apparently learned nothing from its inept handling of this incident.”
The organization says that it is keeping an eye on the enforcement of the new policy and will keep its legal options open.