El Dorado County Supervisors (from left) George Turnboo, Wendy Thomas, John Hidahl, Brooke Laine and Lori Parlin. Only Parlin voted against a July resolution declaring a "Christian Heritage Month" in El Dorado County. (Photo/El Dorado County Board of Supervisors)
El Dorado County Supervisors (from left) George Turnboo, Wendy Thomas, John Hidahl, Brooke Laine and Lori Parlin. Only Parlin voted against a July resolution declaring a "Christian Heritage Month" in El Dorado County. (Photo/El Dorado County Board of Supervisors)

UPDATED: Opposition swells after El Dorado County proclaims ‘Christian Heritage Month’

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Update, Sept. 13 at 10:38 a.m.: The El Dorado Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the ACLU Sept. 13 thanking the organization for its concern and stating they will discuss rescinding the proclamation at their board meeting on Sept. 19.

When the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to establish July as “American Christian Heritage Month,” some community members were already speaking up in opposition.

“The language in this document does not represent the diversity” of the county, longtime resident Joann Abram said during the public meeting in Placerville before the July 18 vote, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Since then, those voices have grown louder and more numerous. They’ve come not only from concerned Jewish residents in the rural county of just under 200,000 south of Lake Tahoe, but also from civil liberties groups, which see the measure as a stark violation of the separation of church and state.

That opposition includes an online petition that’s been signed by about 650 people as of Monday, as well as one county supervisor who now hopes to convince the board to rescind it.

That county supervisor, who was recorded as a “yes” vote on the July proclamation, told J. this week that she regrets her reticence at that meeting.

“It’s one of the few regrets I’ve had in my political career,” Supervisor Brooke Laine said, referring to her decision not to speak out against the measure, which can be read in full here.

A view of downtown Placerville, county seat of El Dorado County, in 2021. (Photo/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)
A view of downtown Placerville, county seat of El Dorado County, in 2021. (Photo/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

Supervisor John Hidahl, who introduced the proclamation, said before the vote, according to the Bee, “This great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians. Not on religions but on a foundation of Christian principles and values.” The proclamation, he continued, is “clearly stating: don’t forget our history.”

According to county records, Laine cast one of four “aye” votes, but she told J. she didn’t vote aye or nay. And for that, she now chides herself.

“I stood in silence. I did not speak when there was discussion about it. I did not cast an affirmative or a no vote,” she said. “But there is validity in the separation of church and state. For that reason, I should have voted against it.”

In an Aug. 25 letter to the board of supervisors, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California voiced its objection because the resolution “conveys that the County supports, promotes and endorses specific religious beliefs and, as such, violates the California Constitution.”

The state constitution includes an even more stringent call for the separation of church and state than does the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

It’s a pure violation of the separation of church and state, and it furthers the agenda of Christian nationalist organizations.

Although the proclamation states that the supervisors recognize the “rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our nation,” other language “sends a clear message that its primary objective is to endorse American Christianity,” the ACLU letter stated. The civil liberties group has asked the board to rescind the resolution or to remove the word “Christian.”

Hidahl didn’t immediately respond to J.’s requests for comment.

Rabbi Evon J. Yakar
Rabbi Evon Yakar

Rabbi Evon Yakar of Temple Bat Yam, a Reform congregation in South Lake Tahoe, was appalled when he learned about the resolution from a J. reporter on Friday, Sept. 8. He was one of several community members who then contacted Laine, the county supervisor, on Monday, Sept. 11.

Reading the proclamation was “offensive to me,” he told J.

“There is Christian history and heritage in this country” that’s worth celebrating, he said. “But this feels like Christian nationalism. It’s not a bridge too far; it’s 10 bridges too far. The simple fact is that it has ‘othered’ me and my community.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group that advocates for the separation of church and state, also sent a letter to the board of supervisors. Its July 28 letter notes that “efforts to pass ‘Christian Heritage Week’ or ‘Christian Heritage Month’ are part of a broader movement known as Project Blitz. The overarching goal of Project Blitz and similar Christian nationalist efforts is to legislate Christianity.”

Both Yakar and Laine see the resolution as part of a pattern of behavior from the county government.

Rabbi Evon Yakar leads a short Shabbat service at Diamond Peak with the Tahoe Jewish community, Feb. 4, 2023. (Photo/Rebecca Meyerholz)
Rabbi Evon Yakar leads a short Shabbat service at Diamond Peak with the Tahoe Jewish community, Feb. 4, 2023. (Photo/Rebecca Meyerholz)

Laine, who joined the board in January, said that the supervisors disbanded the county’s human rights commission in February and soon afterward got rid of an anti-bias training for public servants. She objected to both moves.

“I took that training and found it quite good,” she said.

Marla Saunders
Marla Saunders

Laine said she plans to sign an online petition created by Marla Saunders, a massage therapist in South Lake Tahoe. The petition, which had more than 650 signatures on Monday, makes a call to “Fight for separation of church and state in El Dorado County!”

Saunders, who is Jewish but doesn’t belong to a synagogue, told J. that she has never gotten involved in local politics until now. Saunders said she “cried all morning” after finding out about the resolution and then decided that “I have to do something.”

“It’s a pure violation of the separation of church and state, and it furthers the agenda of Christian nationalist organizations,” she said, explaining why she created her online petition.

Laine plans to bring up the proclamation at the board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The resolution can be rescinded, she said, and that’s her goal.

“I have problems with the whole resolution,” she said. “It’s divisive. It serves no purpose. Its legitimacy at the core is wrong.”

Noting that a portion of her constituency in El Dorado County “believes” what the proclamation outlines, she added, “You have a right to your beliefs and I have a right to mine. They don’t belong in politics.”

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].