Lawsuit filed in Kwanzaa debate - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Blair Simmons

Lawsuit filed in Kwanzaa debate

Henri Brooks Henri Brooks
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    Kwanzaa celebration sparks controversy

    Kwanzaa celebration sparks controversy

    Kwanzaa, a celebration of family community and African culture that began almost forty years ago. A celebration in County Commission chambers has sparked controversy.More >>
    Kwanzaa, a celebration of family community and African culture that began almost forty years ago. In Shelby County, commissioner Henri Brooks has sponsored a Kwanzaa event at the Pink Palace for the pastMore >>

A celebration scheduled to take place downtown Wednesday night became the center of a lawsuit Friday.

The singing, dancing, and celebration normally associated with Kwanzaa may not take place inside the chambers of the Shelby County Commission because of the complaint.

According to Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African culture.  Brooks said she considers it to be an alternative to Christmas or Hanukkah, not a spiritual holiday.

"I'm amazed at the amount of ignorance in the community," she said in an interview Friday.

Brooks has sponsored a Kwanzaa party at the Pink Palace for the last 12 years, but this year, the Pink Palace asked for $300.  Instead, Brooks decided to hold the party in the Shelby County Commission's chambers, scheduling it for Wednesday night.

The decision did not sit well with Shelby County's probate clerk, Chris Thomas.

"I believe the county's violating my first amendment right, and also setting a precedent favoring one religion over another, and that is also a violation of the Constitution," he said Friday.
Thomas cited research he conducted that led him to believe Kwanzaa is a spiritual celebration, and therefore illegal to celebrate in a county building.

"When we hear discrimination against Christians, nobody wants to stand up (and say), 'They're just discriminating,'" Thomas said. "But if you say things against Muslims, blacks,'s a double standard, and I'm tired of that!"

For Brooks, the argument was much simpler.

"You got these imbeciles coming out of the woodwork," she said.

Friday, Thomas filed a lawsuit in chancery court in an attempt to stop the party from being held.

"In the book of James, the Bible says that if a man knows to do what is right and doesn't do it, that's sin, and I believe that, and I believe this is the right thing to do.  That's why I have to do it," he said.

Thomas said it was the reason he spent $286.50 of his own money to file the lawsuit, in an afford to stop Kwanzaa from coming to the Shelby County Commission's chambers.

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