Federal Reserve Examiners Tell Oklahoma Bank to Scrap Christmas Buttons, Online Bible Verse

KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City reported that Christianity was apparently offensive, government bank examiners determined in a bank visit in Perkins, Oklahoma.

Federal Reserve examiners come every four years to make sure banks are complying with a long list of regulations. The examiners came to Perkins last week. And the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter, and buttons that say "Merry Christmas, God With Us" were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank's Internet site also had to be taken down.

“I don’t think there should be a problem with them displaying whatever religious symbols they want to display,” said Amy Weierman, a Perkins resident.

Specifically, the feds believed, the symbols violated the discouragement clause of Regulation B of the bank regulations. According to the clause, "...the use of words, symbols, models and other forms of communication ... express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion."The feds interpret that to mean, for example, a Jew or Muslim or atheist may be offended and believe they may be discriminated against at this bank. It is an appearance of discrimination.

But customers Eyewitness News 5 talked to said they aren’t buying it.“This is just ridiculous,” said bank customer Jim Nyles. “This whole thing is just ridiculous. We all have regulatory bodies that govern us. But this is too much.”

“I think that’s absurd,” said Chelsi Holser, a bank customer. “I don’t agree with it at all. They are taking Christ out of Christmas and life.”

The Daily Oklahoman reported that after the media caught wind of the story and Republican Members of Congress wrote to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, a hasty reversal was in order:

"It has been resolved in full,” [Payne County Bank president Len] Kinder said. “They have restored everything back to the way it was.”

Federal regulators conducting a consumer compliance examination last week cited a rule in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to demand that the bank officials take down the Bible verses and move the personal items out of public view, Kinder said.

Roger Beverage, president of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, said the regulation cited is designed to avoid communication that might discourage “a reasonable person” from pursuing an application for credit. The bank examiners apparently thought the personal items and Bible verses might discourage potential non-Christian customers, Beverage said.

Kinder said he’s never received a complaint about the Christian-themed items.

Tom Hoenig, president of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, issued a statement Friday noting that the regulation “does not apply to jewelry or other personal items displayed in the workplace.”

Outraged bank customers spread the story to the media, and the incident also prompted U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas to write a letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

“This interpretation appears to be without precedent, to possibly contradict other U.S. laws, and to violate fundamental Constitutional protections enjoyed by every citizen of the United States,” the congressmen wrote. “In our years of public service we have seldom encountered a more alarming case of heavy-handed interpretation and enforcement of federal regulations.”

Kinder said hundreds of people from across the country called the bank on Friday to express their support after the story was reported.

“Most of us are real strong Christians here, and it was just an outflow of our Christian faith,” he said. “God’s blessed our bank. We’ve had some very good years even in tough times and we give God the credit for where we’re at. We try to operate the bank on Christian principles.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis