Feds Force Bank to Remove ‘Merry Christmas’ Sign

Fed examiners made a bank take down a "Merry Christmas, God With Us" sign. Then the "system" kicked in.

Seeing the KOCO headline “Feds Force Oklahoma Bank To Remove Crosses, Bible Verse” at memeorandum, I was fully expecting a hysterical reaction to a mundane regulatory decision. Not so much.

Federal Reserve examiners come every four years to make sure banks are complying with a long list of regulations. The examiners came to Perkins last week. And the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say “Merry Christmas, God With Us.” were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank’s Internet site also had to be taken down.

[…]

Specifically, the feds believed, the symbols violated the discouragement clause of Regulation B of the bank regulations. According to the clause, “…the use of words, symbols, models and other forms of communication … express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion.”

The feds interpret that to mean, for example, a Jew or Muslim or atheist may be offended and believe they may be discriminated against at this bank. It is an appearance of discrimination.

I’m grumpier than the average atheist but even I find that absurd.   I can’t imagine many American Jews or Muslims — let alone those banking in Oklahoma — would be offended by being wished a merry Christmas.  And, while I don’t know what the fragment “God With Us” means, precisely, I wouldn’t interpret it as a challenge to my non-belief or a signal that I wasn’t welcome.  (I don’t know if the buttons in question were the one pictured above, which I found online.  If so, they’re definitely Christian rather than nondenominational.  But my reaction would still be the same.)

But, in a rare sign that our political system isn’t completely broken, this one has been quickly resolved.  The above report was published Thursday.   The next day, the policy was overturned after bank officials contacted their congressional representatives.

Lawmakers Call Out Bernanke After Feds Force Bank To Remove Crosses

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas issued a joint letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday over what the two view as a “distressing interpretation of Federal Reserve Regulation B” concerning a bank in Perkins.

[…]

“This is an all-out assault on the faith, values and rights of the bank, its employees and the people of Perkins they serve,” Inhofe said. “It is absolutely ridiculous for the regulation to be interpreted this way, and it unduly discriminates against a person’s faith in Christ and their constitutionally protected freedom to publicly express that faith. It is simply another case of liberals in Washington overstepping their bounds and intruding in the lives of individuals. I expect the Federal Reserve to rectify this situation quickly.”

Lucas also responded and said, “The recent actions taken by the Federal Reserve at Payne County Bank are of great concern to me. I do not agree with its interpretation of Regulation B in this circumstance and believe that it infringes upon fundamental constitutional rights afforded to all Americans. I encourage the Federal Reserve to review the situation and take the appropriate action to address it.”

After Outcry, Feds Back Down; Banks Can Display Crosses:

The president of Payne County Bank, Lynn Kinder, said he spoke with the second in command at the Federal Reserve late Thursday evening. Both sides agreed to work out the issue. “The federal reserve immediately took action, ” Kinder said in a statement. “And allowed us to restore our Christian display of items and verses on our television and website until a final determination is made. It appears that the matter will be resolved.”

Apparently, the fact that “The story garnered national attention overnight from bloggers and Twitter users who posted links to KOCO.com’s story” helped, too.

This is how the system is supposed to work.  An overzealous regulator makes a legally defensible but boneheaded call.  Congress performs its oversight function.  A more clearheaded interpretation follows.

Technically, this isn’t over.  But I’d be truly shocked if the Fed decided to restore the original interpretation of that regulation.  And, if they do, Congress will take more formal action.

FILED UNDER: Religion, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Christians are so persecuted in this country. If stuff like this can happen to Christians, the next thing you know, people will be trying to stop, oh, I dunno, a Muslim community center from being built. And then, Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas will have to get out their pens and paper and write letters about how this is also an all-out assault on the faith, values and rights of the Mulslim people of America.

    Thankfully, we have people like Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas to ensure all people are allowed to practice their religion in peace.

  2. James Joyner says:

    We did like 500 posts at OTB on why the Muslim center should have been allowed to proceed in peace.

    Are Christians persecuted in the USA? Not hardly. But that doesn’t mean federal regulators should make idiotic decisions without the people’s representatives stepping in.

  3. I know you did. I read you all the time. And it was an idiotic decision by the feds. I’m just pointing out that Inhofe and Lucas wouldn’t have breathed a word if this had been on one of eithers’ non-approved religions list.

    I find it hard to get too upset over even this, especially since I know politicians like Inhofe and Lucas only get upset over affronts to religion when that religion is Christianity.

  4. floyd says:

    Is the bank public property? I would guess not.
    What next? Stores not allowed to display Christmas decorations, even for sale?
    A bank is a business like any other and this smells of incremental bigotry.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    If you think the government support of the “Muslim Center” at Ground zero, and the constant attempts to divorce America from Christianity to be without social consequence, think again.

    Once again the power of government…..

  6. Here come the wingnuts.

  7. JKB says:

    The bank and the ground zero mosque have little in common. The ground zero mosque was not opposed or shutdown by government officials acting according to their misguided interpretations but rather protested by citizens expressing their private and non-enforceable opinions. Elected representatives really have no reason to involve themselves in these private actions unless they wish to do so for some personal reason, whether private or to enhance their popularity.

    The bank on the other hand was ordered to remove the display by government officials under threat of government punitive action for non-compliance. The order was based on the arbitrary interpretation of one or a few bureaucrats. The purpose of elected representatives is to represent their constituents before the onslaught of bureaucrat actions, to demand agencies explain their actions against citizens and generally oversee the acts of the technocrats. So the involvement of the elected representatives, while still voluntary on their part, was a part of their official duties.

  8. sam says:

    “the constant attempts to divorce America from Christianity”

    Dude, that divorce happened years ago.

  9. Joe R. says:

    A bank may not be public property, but given benefits like FDIC and likelihoods of bailouts if they fail, I think there is an argument that they aren’t exactly private, either.

  10. Alex Knapp says:

    JKB,

    A bank may not be public property, but given benefits like FDIC and likelihoods of bailouts if they fail, I think there is an argument that they aren’t exactly private, either.

    That may be, but I don’t think any reasonable person confuses the bank with the state. Displaying crosses in the Federal Reserve building is the wrong thing to do because it’s definitely a government institution. A bank is a private institution, albeit a tightly-regulated one.

    @Eric

    the constant attempts to divorce America from Christianity

    Our first three presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, all explicitly rejected the proposition that Jesus Christ was divine. Jefferson had his own creed, Adams was a Unitarian and Washington attended his wife’s church but declined to participate in communion.

    I don’t know how you get more quintessentially American than Washington, Jefferson and Adams. But none of them were orthodox Christians (i.e. believed that Christ was one of the divine persons in the Holy Trinity).

  11. D.C. Russell says:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    So what Constitutional law passed by Congress authorizes the Fed to issue regulations prohibiting the free exercise of religion by banks or employees of banks?

  12. PD Shaw says:

    Well stated JKB.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    A bank may not be public property, but given benefits like FDIC and likelihoods of bailouts if they fail, I think there is an argument that they aren’t exactly private, either.

    And so, with the ever increasing involvement of the Federal government in every aspect of our lives, and in every business, and in every home, is there any place where the Federal government cannot make such choices for us?

    Our first three presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, all explicitly rejected the proposition that Jesus Christ was divine. Jefferson had his own creed, Adams was a Unitarian and Washington attended his wife’s church but declined to participate in communion.

    I don’t know how you get more quintessentially American than Washington, Jefferson and Adams. But none of them were orthodox Christians (i.e. believed that Christ was one of the divine persons in the Holy Trinity).

    But neither did they think that the Federal government was a suitable tool to reinforce that non belief among the citizenry.

  14. wr says:

    If I walked into a bank covered in crucifixes and Bible verses, my first thought would be that they were working mighty hard to convince me that they’re all super-religious. And my second thought would be to wonder what they were trying to hide.

    Time after time we see that the biggest crooks are the ones who wrap themselves in the Bible, and the biggest suckers those who insist on throwing money at, say, Ralph Reed even after he’s been exposed as a thieving scumbag because he says nice things about Baby Jesus.

    I’d throw my money in the gutter before I put it in this bank.

  15. anjin-san says:

    > I’d throw my money in the gutter before I put it in this bank.

    Thats certainly your right. But I fail to see how a Christmas decoration is any business of the government. I am not a Christian, but I did grow up celebrating Christmas, and with to continue doing so. Someone at the fed should lose their job over this. It is simply not a valid function of government.

  16. anjin-san says:

    > is there any place where the Federal government cannot make such choices for us?

    You are so right. The choice of gays to marry who they wish, or serve openly in the military, the choice to smoke pot if one chooses to do so…

  17. michael reynolds says:

    Michael D makes the interesting point: Inhofe and Lucas aren’t defending principal, they’re “defending” their tribe and thereby garnering votes.

    Slathering crosses all over a bank definitely does send a message: we want Christian customers and don’t want Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or atheists. It’s obnoxious and it’s un-American.

    Should it be against the law? Probably not.

    But let’s not pretend this is something it isn’t. It’s not about principal, it’s about tribalism and it sends, and is intended to send, a message to anyone who is not a member of the dominant religious group.

    If we have no problem with this kind of thing, then on what grounds would we object if the bank displayed the white power cross?

  18. Alex Knapp says:

    @Eric,

    But neither did they think that the Federal government was a suitable tool to reinforce that non belief among the citizenry.

    And on the same note, they did not believe that the government was a suitable tool to reinforce BELIEF IN CHRISTIANITY among the citizenry.

    Additionally, I would note that while I believe that banks have the right to demonstrate their piety, such public demonstrations of same are profoundly anti-Christian and explicitly rejected by the Son of Man as recorded in the Gospels.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Slathering crosses all over a bank definitely does send a message: we want Christian customers and don’t want Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or atheists.”

    Oh, c’mon. At worst, it’s pandering to the dominant tribe. Most likely, it’s secular ritual. Hell, my wife and I are atheists and we still put up Christmas decorations and send out holiday cards. She likes Christmas trees and related doodads and, while I find the whole thing a pain in the ass, I don’t otherwise have the slightest objection.

  20. I am an atheist. I think god-botherers are irritating. I don’t agree the employee should lose his job, but I DO think he should get a slap upside the head. What someone at the Fed did was a complete waste of time. And if he got paid for that, then he should be mocked and reprimanded.

    Rationale: “Don’t you have anything better to do you half-wit? We’re in a financial crisis and you’re worried about Christmas shit in a bank, you moron?”

    I would love to see religion out of everything. But I’m not going to fall on any swords for it. This employee clearly wanted to stir up shit and embarrassed his employer.

  21. matt says:

    I’d like to add the treaty of Tripoli to Alex’s defense..

  22. Eric Florack says:

    And on the same note, they did not believe that the government was a suitable tool to reinforce BELIEF IN CHRISTIANITY among the citizenry.

    Of course! Yet he apparently defines such actions differently than do you.

    I do recommend…that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws…”

    — George Washington

    Apparently the congress at the time, who in fact wrote the first amendment, defined it differently as well, given that they called for and supported that very proclamation. Unless, that is, you can argue that they did so despite believing it violated the very amendment they had just finished drafting….

    That’s one example of many.

  23. Trumwill says:

    A bank may not be public property, but given benefits like FDIC and likelihoods of bailouts if they fail, I think there is an argument that they aren’t exactly private, either.

    Given the benefits afforded to me by virtue of the fact that I am an American, that my money is to some extent secured by the government, that if I declare bankrupcy the government will tell the banks that they can no longer collect money from me… am I really, truly a private citizen? Maybe I should be considered public and any expression of religious belief on my part ought to be banned.

  24. Eric Florack says:

    and explicitly rejected by the Son of Man as recorded in the Gospels.

    Examples would be interesting.

  25. TG Chicago says:

    “I was fully expecting a hysterical reaction to a mundane regulatory decision. Not so much.”

    Yeah, pretty much. I guess the regulatory decision wasn’t mundane (though it wasn’t that big a deal — I mean, even if the bank had to take down their crosses, are they being persecuted so terribly? I think they should be allowed to do it, but barring it wouldn’t exactly get in their way to worship as they please.), but I think it’s fair to call Inhofe’s reaction hysterical.

    When you start saying that removing Bible verses from a website is an “all-out assault on the faith, values and rights of the bank, its employees and the people of Perkins they serve”, you’re getting pretty hysterical. And when you go to the “liberals in Washington overstepping their bounds” business, it’s clear that you’re just pandering for applause from the right-wing peanut gallery.

    It would be illegal for the bank to refuse to serve a customer based on their religion, right? But it’s legal for them to make it clear that non-Christians are not welcome there. I guess the line has to be drawn somewhere, and maybe that’s the best place. But it can’t be a surprise that some would be confused by the grey area.

    Most of all, the bank might consider using this as their next Bible verse for the website:

    Matthew 6:5-6

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

  26. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    Christmas trees are secular ritual. (We’ll be getting one if this rain ever ends.)

    The buttons and the crosses are not, they are a pointed statement. Pandering to the dominant tribe, sure. But that’s accomplished with a Merry Christmas and a tree. They went further than that and they did it to send a message.

    Don’t forget that Christians think they rack up some kind of cosmic brownie points any time they “witness.” That’s what this is: witnessing. Which is to say proselytizing. Of course proselytizing is and should be legal. But it is not neutral, it carries within it the assumption of superiority and the assumption that the person on the receiving end is a moral inferior, a benighted person, a person requiring salvation. Of course, as usual, the witnessing is done not to actually convince anyone but as a self-serving exercise in smugness. (Look at me, I’m witnessing!)

    Take it out of the religious context and imagine it in political terms. You walk into a bank in, let’s say San Francisco, and there’s a big red, white and blue donkey on the wall and a portrait of Nancy Pelosi and on every desk are plaques saying something like, “Democrats: we care about people,” and every teller is wearing a star-spangled, “D.”

    You wouldn’t think that would be sending a message to you as a Republican to take your heartless conservative self somewhere else to bank?

    This bank is sending a message, and of course they’re doing it in a state where there’s no risk to them in “witnessing.” How many Jews, Muslims etc… are there in Oklahoma? Two dozen? So the bank gets to pander to the dominant tribe, rack up heavenly brownie points, and all they risk is the alienation of an insignificant minority. (A plus in itself.) It’s creepy and cowardly behavior.

  27. Gustopher says:

    I do hope the Bible verse of the day had something to do with either usury or Jesus whipping the money lenders.

  28. Brian Knapp says:

    Isn’t usury sort of an issue in the Bible?

  29. Eric Florack says:

    And so you equate saying “Merry Christmas” to public prayer?
    Seems a stretch.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Usury is an interesting topic…I wonder how many of the people who are so offended that Christianity is supposedly being taken out of the public arena in this country are as equally incensed about usury, something Jesus Himself opposed strenuously…

  31. michael reynolds says:

    IP:

    Clearly you don’t understand the Bible.

    The Bible says whatever people want it to say. It says it quite clearly and unambiguously. . .

    . . . right up to the moment when people change their minds. And then the Bible says whatever new thing they believe.

    As it has always done and always will.

    You heathen.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    Indeed, Michael…one of the big problems with organized religion is how it is used by people to push their social agenda on others…hence, why there should be a clear separation between church and state…

  33. […] James Joyner at Outside the Beltway notes, this was a bad decision by a low-level official that was quickly reversed in the face of […]

  34. […] Feds Force Bank to Remove ‘Merry Christmas’ Sign (outsidethebeltway.com) […]

  35. floyd says:

    “one of the big problems with organized religion is how it is used by people to push their social agenda on others…hence, why there should be a clear separation between church and state…”
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    So, now “religious” people should be denied suffrage?…. It ‘s right there in the first amendment for all the left to see? Right?
    Please, tell me that you are not trying to push your social agenda on others.

  36. floyd says:

    “The Bible says whatever people want it to say. It says it quite clearly and unambiguously. . .”
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Like the constitution, only we have nine Popes?

  37. An Interested Party says:

    “So, now ‘religious’ people should be denied suffrage?”

    I assumed your reading comprehension skills were better than that…my mistake for making such an assumption…separation of church and state has nothing to do with denying religious people the right to vote…

  38. anjin-san says:

    > So, now “religious” people should be denied suffrage?

    There you go again Floyd. Lying about what people say simply because you do not share their political views.

    Do you ever actually read your posts before you publish them?

  39. floyd says:

    Oh! excuse me , they just shouldn’t vote their conscience or as you put it … their “social agenda! Got it!

  40. An Interested Party says:

    Moving the goalposts once again…in addition to not saying they should be denied the right to vote, no one is saying these people shouldn’t vote their conscience either…you talk a lot about me having a knee-jerk reaction to you, perhaps you should check out a mirror the next time you want to make such an accusation…