On Holy Thursday the practice of the washing of feet is part of the liturgy. But what happens when a government official brings it into the workplace?
Craig Taffaro, president of St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, didn’t see a problem with his going through his office washing the feet of employees who wished it, reports an April 7, 2010 Religion News Service story. Far from it, actually:
“As the chief executive officer of St. Bernard Parish Government, I thought it was an appropriate gesture to show that I am as humbled as any other sinner in the world, so much so that I would offer to wash the feet of the employees,” Taffaro said.
He also said employees were not pressured to take part and that most did. “If they wanted to participate, they could. If they didn’t, no problem,” said Taffaro, who is Catholic. “I didn’t keep a list or anything like that.”
His blurring of the line between religion and state, however, did not escape the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose executive director, Marjorie R. Esman, wrote Taffaro a letter reminding him that the U.S. Constitution prohibits government officials from imposing religious practices on employees at the workplace. Esman said the ACLU trusts he will refrain from further religious practices in the workplace.
St. Bernard Parish Councilman Wayne Landry heard about Taffaro’s action from employees when he came to work Thursday afternoon. He said a few employees told him they felt uncomfortable with the way it was done.
“Perhaps had it been an invited thing for whoever wanted to come, maybe those types of comments I received would have been avoided,” Landry said. “On the other side, I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish the good will that was exhibited by the president in the spirit of Easter. I believe his intentions were good.”