Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Help Me Howard: New Testament Boulevard
We drive by them every day, but how closely do you read the signs on South Florida streets? One woman paid attention and says a road called "New Testament Boulevard" is unconstitutional, and she wants it changed. It's a biblical boulevard battle. Here's Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Some people would tell you it's just a sign on a pole on a street, others would see it as a sign from above.
Aleida Lanza: "The sign is called 'New Testament Boulevard.'"
The street sign reads Northwest 169th Street on top and underneath it reveals you are driving along New Testament Boulevard, leaving no doubt to its biblical reference.
Aleida Lanza: "The New Testament is the second portion of the Bible, which refers to Christianity and the adoption of Christianity."
Thousands of people pass by the Miami-Dade sign every day, but it stopped Aleida Lanza in her tracks.
Aleida Lanza: "There is a clear requirement for a separation between church and state."
The phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution. It came from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 explaining the First Amendment that blocks the federal government from getting involved in religious matters and, in this case, Aleida believes Miami-Dade County is getting involved.
Aleida Lanza: "I don't have a problem with what the sign says whatsoever, I have a problem with our government using tax dollars to promote a religious connotation or a religious message."
The sign is on a road leading to New Testament Baptist Church. Aleida says, what if another church, temple or mosque wanted a sign to honor their religion.
Aleida Lanza: "For example, a Muslim faith, or in any other faith who uses a different source for their worship, I think it would be inappropriate for our government to be put in a position to decide who gets to put their sign up."
It's a slippery slope that the founders of our country wisely wanted to avoid, so Aleida started calling her modern day political leaders and, surprise, none of them wanted to touch this sign question with a 10 foot pole.
Aleida Lanza: "I called the State of Florida, I called the Department of Transportation, I called the department of public works here locally, and I called the commissioner's office, my local commissioner, and I called the mayor's office."
Leaving Aleida feeling not only is the government violating the Constitution, they are using tax money to do it.
Aleida Lanza: "I would like the sign removed."
But with no government agency wanting to even discuss whether it's legal to give a county road a religious name, Aleida turned to the people not smart enough to dodge a controversial topic, the people at Help me Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "There is probably no more complicated legal area than the separation of church and state. This one though is clear, the government cannot name a public street that makes it appear they are endorsing a particular religion like this seems to do."
We started digging and discovered, despite what the signs say, the street technically is not named New Testament. The confusion came from this 1996 letter from Miami-Dade Public Works that says, 'We have no objection to adding New Testament Boulevard as a secondary designation with 169th Street', but the letter also says, 'It can only be done on the Private Drive owned by your church.'
A public works official says the mistake could have happened when a Hurricane blew down street signs and, in the aftermath, the county road got the private road's name. They told us the street sign would be replaced by one that only reads, "Northwest 169 St., and, Howard says, there is a way to give a county road a religious name.
Howard Finkelstein: "There is one way for a government agency to legally name a street after a particular religion, to do it they have to name other streets after every other religion imaginable, and, as you can imagine, there are just too many religions to even attempt it, let alone agree on what the religions all are."
No one realizes that more than Aleida who got what she wanted and realizes, even though she was defending the Constitution, people will be upset with her.
Aleida Lanza: "I absolutely respect their opinion and I honor their opinion and I welcome their opinion. I'm celebrating the fact that we can all have our opinions, but the Constitution is the only thing that guarantees that and we need to remember that."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, if you are wondering what religion Aleida practices, she told us it's irrelevant. She is an American and this is only about the constitution and people have been fighting and dying for the constitution for over 200 years."
All signs pointing to a problem? Need some street smart advice? Contact us, our constitution is tough and a testament to good legal research.
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