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December 17, 2010

Feds Attempt to Force Oklahoma Bank to Remove Crosses, Bible Verses; Bank Fights Back and Wins

The theory behind this whole shebang is that banks are so pervasively regulated, the federal government can basically tell them what to do even though they're privately-owned businesses. Keep this story in mind when you hear that Obama's DHHS is issuing tighter regulations for hospitals...

Perkins, Oklahoma is a tiny place just south of my hometown that we basically regard as a speedbump on US Route 177. It's so small, the whole population could fit on just the home team side of my high school's stadium. I went through Perkins on my way from Los Angeles to D.C. this past fall and they were just as friendly as I remember.

Last week they got a visit from a Federal Reserve examiner.

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.

Among the regulations enforced by the Federal Reserve inspectors is 12 C.F.R. sec. 202, also known as "Regulation B". It prohibits banks from discriminating in lending or advertising on account of "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract)."

Sounds reasonable, but the "Official Staff Interpretation" of the regulation has this gem of generalizations:

"The use of words, symbols, models or other forms of communication in advertising that express, imply, or suggest a discriminatory preference or a policy of exclusion in violation of the Act."

The feds told the bank that crosses, Merry Christmas buttons, and Bible verses "imply" discrimination or exclusion. According to the feds, Jews or Muslims or atheists might believe they would be discriminated against at this bank because of the overt presence of so many Christians. As a result, the Christian symbols and words must come down or the Federal Reserve will withhold certification.

It's hard to know where to begin with something so mind-stoppingly stupid, but two things come immediately to mind. First,


FY, NQ

Second, this is outrageous discrimination against the Christians who own and work at the bank. And it's being imposed by the federal government; so while the bank's use of religious symbols creates no constitutional problems, the federal disapproval of religious symbols as "suggestive of discrimination" is a serious breach of the First Amendment.

The interpretation of the federal officials here is simply untenable. The bank may not discriminate on the basis of religion if it wants to participate with the Federal Reserve. That's fine. But it simply does not follow that the Federal Reserve must prohibit the display of Christian religious symbols in a private bank on the theory that they might suggest discrimination to a potential customer. That is what is known by lawyers as a "prior restraint" and it's damn near always unconstitutional.

There's also an Establishment Clause problem here (...can't sleep the Lemon test will eat me...can't sleep the Lemon test will eat me...can't sleep the Lemon test will eat me...).

The bank fought back, thank God, and today the feds reversed themselves.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, “as interpreted by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, does not apply to jewelry or other personal items displayed in the workplace,” Hoenig said today in a statement.

Senior Kansas City Fed officials conferred with the Fed in Washington before allowing the bank to restore the Christian symbols, the community bank said in a statement on its website.

Apparently, this was all the fault of an overzealous Federal Reserve examiner. Uh huh.

digg this
posted by Gabriel Malor at 06:39 PM

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