Militant atheists cross over historic cross, but county pushes back Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to strip historic cross from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania seal
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, asked a federal court late yesterday to protect its county seal from a threatened whitewashing for having a religious image on it. In Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) v. Lehigh County, the militant atheists at FFRF are asking the court to strip the image of a cross from among a dozen other images all representing aspects of the County’s history and culture. The cross was included to honor the County’s early German settlers who fled persecution in their homeland for religious freedom in America. The County, represented by Becket, argues that it is not illegal to recognize history, including its religious aspects.
In the early 1940s, Lehigh County adopted a seal to reflect its rich history, economy, and culture. The seal includes symbols important to the county and its history: cement silos, a bison head, a red heart, an oil lamp and books, the Liberty Bell, and the cross, among others. The seal has existed for over 70 years without controversy. But now, FFRF is suing to scrub the cross from the seal, claiming that it establishes Christianity as an official county religion.
“Every symbol on the County seal represents a unique piece of its history,” said Joe Davis, counsel at Becket, which is representing Lehigh County. “Acknowledging the beliefs and values of the County’s early settlers’ respects and honors the County’s heritage and culture—it does not establish a religion.”
Images of historic significance are common on the seals and flags of states, counties, and towns across America. New Mexico’s flag has a single image: the sacred sun symbol of the Zia Native American tribe. Louisiana’s flag has a symbol of a pelican with a bleeding heart that feeds its hatchlings, a symbol long used to illustrate how Christians are nourished by the Eucharist and reflecting the early French Catholic influence in the Louisiana Territory. Utah’s flag and seal have images recalling the Mormon pioneers. And multiple seals and flags in the American southwest have images of friars and mission churches reflecting the early influence of Spanish Catholics in that region.
Yet in 2016, FFRF sued Lehigh County, trying to censor the cross from the seal. In September 2017, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in FFRF’s favor. Yesterday Lehigh County, represented by Becket, appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, asserting that religion is part of the rich cultural fabric of our country and that the Constitution does not require the government to strip every religious symbol from the public square.
“Religion is not something to be erased or ignored. It’s an integral part of the human experience,” said Davis. “Another unnecessary lawsuit in a long list of unnecessary lawsuits from FFRF shouldn’t lead to censoring religion from the public square.”
Becket has defended religious symbols in the public square in several cases, including FFRF v. Weber, Kondrat’yev v. City of Pensacola, and the Ground Zero Cross.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).