Seventeen firefighters are in hot water for posing next to a city fire truck in a "Merry Christmas" billboard picture in Lancaster, Ohio.
The billboard stayed up for about two weeks in December 2015 before it was taken down by city officials who said it was in violation of separation of church and state per the U.S. Constitution.
"I could have helped them craft a 'Seasons Greetings' message that would have protected us," Lancaster City Law Director Randall Ullom told The Columbus Dispatch on Feb. 8. "My issue was the sign."
Ullom told Lancaster Fire Chief Dave Ward in a letter that the billboard created a "civil liability for the city."
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"They were on city time, with city property, with no authority," Ward stated. "We have well-established policies and procedures. They were well aware of it. They chose to do this. They have to ask for permission to use city property for non-city purposes. They didn't."
The firefighters, who call themselves "Super Crew 3," were suspended for various amounts of time (24-48 hours), placed on probation and given written reprimands.
"They said they thought they were doing something nice for the community, and also it was a crew rivalry thing," Terry Bowers, president of Local 291 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told the newspaper.
"[T]they did violate rules and policies and that's why the union got involved when the discipline was going to be handed out," Bowers added.
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However, Fairfield County Prosecutor Gregg Marx called on Ullom to reverse his view on Feb. 8.
"I’m quite familiar with the First Amendment, and I’m sure that it doesn’t prevent these firefighters from using their own money to say ‘Merry Christmas’ on a billboard,” Marx told the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette.
“Liberals have so badly twisted the First Amendment that some misguided people think that government workers can’t express their personal religious views," Marx added. "That’s just wrong.”
Sources: The Columbus Dispatch, Lancaster Eagle-Gazette / Photo Credit: Support Fire Department Crew 3 at Station 1 via Facebook