A PA County’s Seal with Cross is Unconstitutional

LeHigh County

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent officials in Lehigh County (Pennsylvania) a warning about how their seal represents an illegal promotion of religion in late 2014. A Latin cross is located in the center of the Lehigh County seal and FFRF thought that it violates the Constitution.

A month after the discussion about the seal began, commissioners voted 9-0 to direct the county solicitor to send a strongly worded response to the foundation stating their intention not to remove the cross from the seal.

“It is the position of Lehigh County that the presence of the cross on the seal among all the other items of historical significance has the secular purpose of recognizing the history of the county,” the response stated. “As such it does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Accordingly, the county is not planning on removing the cross from the seal.”

FFRF and four members of the Lehigh community filed a federal lawsuit against the County just over a year ago: “By adopting and displaying a seal and flag with a Latin cross, the county is violating the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose is religious, not secular, and ‘has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion,’ the plaintiffs contend.”

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When finally ruled on this issue, Judge Edward Smith echoed what atheists had been saying all along. The law, as it currently stands, requires that the court rule in favor of the plaintiffs: the inclusion of the cross lacked a secular purpose both when the defendant adopted the seal and when the defendant refused to remove the cross from the seal, and a reasonable observer would perceive the seal as endorsing Christianity.

Despite the fact that, in the conclusion, the Judge wrote - Lehigh County’s Seal is a passive symbol that does not coerce any citizen to practice or adhere to Christianity, and does not establish a county religion – he rules in favor of the atheists. That’s because the law requires him to apply the test of what a reasonable observer, with no knowledge of the county’s history, would think. That test showed that the seal endorses Christianity.

“This welcome ruling should settle the matter and get the seal redesigned to be inclusive, to ensure that it does not continue to send a message that only Christian citizens are represented or welcome,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Photo Credits: NBC Philadelphia

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