The Freedom From Religion Foundation is awaiting a response to its public records request from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in regards to the county’s seal.
The FFRF, a nonprofit watchdog organization that promotes the separation of church and state, alleged that the county’s seal violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, because it includes a Latin cross in the middle of the seal, thus endorsing Christianity.
The cross was included in the county’s seal to honor original Christian settlers of the county, according to county Solicitor Matthew Sorrentino. The seal has been visible on government buildings and other county property for over 70 years.
The FFRF first sent a letter to county Executive Tom Muller in November, notifying him of the seal’s constitutional violation. However, the seal still remains on the county website and the county commissioners notified the FFRF in March that they had no intention of removing 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," wrote Sorrentino to the nonprofit. "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."
Patrick Elliott, an attorney with the FFRF, said that he is waiting for the county to respond to his Right-To-Know request before deciding if he should file a legal charge. He said that the organization is not interested in pursuing the issue in county court without local involvement.
A local resident had initially contacted the FFRF about the county seal, which is when the organization first became involved. Elliot said that the goal is to resolve the issue with the county "cooperatively, without lengthy costly litigation," but that the organization was willing to take legal action over the county’s use of a religious symbol.
The Lehigh County Board of Commissioners believes that it has moved on from the issue.
"We received a letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation, we responded to that letter, and as far as we're concerned, the matter is closed," said Board President Brad Osborne.
Image source: Lehighcounty.org