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A Midwestern activist group is criticizing Lubbock's University Medical Center (UMC) over a banner the hospital has hanging from one of its parking garage structures.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin, says it wants UMC to "stop engaging in unconstitutional religious promotion." UMC says the banner is slated to be removed as the COVID-19 pandemic comes to end.

The banner, which you can see in the photo below, says: "Gracious Lord, for all of UMC I pray. Your divine protection over them, guidance within them & provision for them daily," - Reverend Wendell Davis. Firm, not fearful."

Freedom From Religion Foundation Photo of UMC Banner - June 2021
Freedom From Religion Foundation Photo of UMC Banner (June 2021)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says their staff attorney wrote a letter to UMC officials noting that, "The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages."

On Thursday, University Medical Center provided to KFYO News a response to the claims from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"UMC Health System recently became aware of concerns expressed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation related to our display of a COVID-19 support message printed on banners on our parking garage, intended to encourage our employees, physicians, and visitors through the pandemic," said Mark Funderburk, president and CEO of UMC. "UMC Health System recognizes diversity in our workplace and in our patient population. UMC Health System also understands the delicate balance between the free exercise of religion and government neutrality.

Funderburk added: "As per our original plan to replace the banner once our COVID-19 census diminished, it will be removed in the very near future and replaced with a new message of support, as we emerge from the pandemic."

"Like many hospitals, University Medical Center has a chaplain program designed to improve patient’s health and well-being," he said. "These professionals skillfully and compassionately attend the spiritual and emotional needs, and support the health and welfare of UMC’s patients, staff, and visitors. Of note, before and since the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to UMC, no patient, employee or visitor has been compelled to participate in any expression or practice of faith.

"Most importantly, UMC Health System is tremendously blessed and fortunate to have an exceptional team of caregivers who have led with a strong resolve to serve," Funderburk concluded.

No specific date was noted by Funderburk concerning the removal of the banner.

In a news release sent June 9th by the FFRF, the group said University Medical Center must remove the banner "since it represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion over nonreligion."

"The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages," Freedom From Religion Foundation Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to University Medical Center President/CEO Mark Funderburk. "The Supreme Court has said time and again that the 'First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.' Like the Ten Commandments posters in county buildings in McCreary and the crèche display on county land in Allegheny, this display of religious sentiment on a large banner directed towards the public on a public hospital would be viewed by a reasonable observer as an endorsement of religion, and is therefore unconstitutional."

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