Congressional Staffer Tells Young Activist His Lack of Religion is a “Problem”

A young activist named Joshua Brown is only 13 but he has plans to become the mayor of Redding (CA) when he turns 18.


That certainly makes for some entertaining headlines. But this isn’t some cheap publicity stunt for Brown. He’s already getting politically active and lobbying with his father on issues he cares about. So you can imagine how furious he became when he found out his own congressman, Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, hadn’t held a local town hall in years.

Brown began calling and emailing LaMalfa’s office urging him to schedule the event. (A town hall eventually happened this past April, though Brown wasn’t given the chance to ask any questions.) Then Brown kept contacting LaMalfa about other issues that mattered to him. As everyone should with their elected officials.

The Chico News & Review reports on how that went down:

For his efforts, Joshua recently received a response he’d never expected: a cease-and-desist letter addressed to him and his parents from LaMalfa’s Washington, D.C., office.

“This letter is immediate notification that all verbal communication, emails, text messages, and office visits must cease and desist immediately with all offices of U.S. Representative Doug LaMalfa,” reads the letter dated Aug. 9. After directing the Browns to contact only the Washington, D.C., office in writing, the letter warns that “all other contact will be deemed harassment and reported to the United States Capitol Police.” It’s signed by Mark Spannagel, LaMalfa’s chief of staff.

Brown doesn’t deny that he’s contacted the office fairly often. But that’s a disproportionate response for a teenager trying to make a difference.

Anyway, there was another part of this story that stood out. It’s not just LaMalfa lashing out against the kid. His staff is doing the same. In one case, it happened merely because Brown said he wasn’t religious.

In May, another LaMalfa staffer, Brenda Lee Haynes, posted to Joshua’s Facebook page in a conversation about separation of church and state. When Joshua mentioned he wasn’t religious, Haynes responded: “So the good news is you’ve at least identified your problem. Now you can begin to fix things. Good luck.” Later in the online conversation, she tells Joshua: “You have much to learn in life, but with your obvious lack of respect for your fellow man, chances are you won’t get very far.”

While the conversation is no longer online, you can read Brown’s account of it here.

That’s how you know this isn’t merely a story about a kid who’s going overboard with his phone calls and emails. LaMalfa and his staff don’t like his views. That’s why they want to shut him up. (And by the way, if the insinuation was that Brown’s non-religiosity means he doesn’t have respect for his fellow man, that’s absurd. If anything, he probably has more respect for people because he knows God’s not looking out for their best interests.)

I’ve reached out to Rep. LaMalfa’s office to find out if the congressman agrees that non-religious people are a problem (and if so, why) and whether Ms. Haynes has apologized. As of this writing, I have not heard back.

(Screenshot via KRCR. Thanks to Brian for the link. Correction: Brown intends to run as the mayor of Redding, not Sacramento; I have fixed this in the post.)

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