An atheist group has asked a New Jersey borough to remove religious symbols including a cross from its seal and motto.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group that advocates for the separation of church and state, has called for the borough of Clayton, New Jersey, to replace its current seal and motto. Currently, the town's seal is a symbol of a church with a cross and its motto reads, "A Great Place to Live and Play, Work and Pray," according to a March 22 news release from the FFRF.
According to the FFRF, the inclusion of the cross and reference to praying violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which states that the government will not involve itself with religious matters. FFRF noted that the seal's cross represents an endorsement of Christianity and Christian prayer.
"Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote in a September 2015 letter to Tom Bianco, the borough's mayor. "Federal courts have also consistently ruled that religious symbolism, and crosses specifically, on municipal seals are unconstitutional."
The borough responded to FFRF, saying the motto and seal were a celebration of Clayton's history.
"It is the position of Borough of Clayton that the church and cross on the Clayton seal, along with the other items of historical significance in Clayton, has the secular purpose of recognizing the history of the Borough," Solicitor Timothy Scaffidi wrote in an October 2015 response to FFRF's request.
In their news release, the FFRF urged Clayton to consider becoming more inclusive, citing the 30 percent of Americans who do not practice Christianity.
FFRF has been involved in other religious issues across the country. In 2015, the Foundation entered a battle with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he said "In God We Trust" decals on police department cars do not violate the First Amendment, Constitution Center reported. FFRF sent more than 60 police departments letters asking them to remove the bumper stickers from their police cars.
The Foundation has continued their campaign in Clayton, with Ziegler sending a follow-up letter in response to the one that FFRF received.
"… It's not a city's place to declare that it's a good place to pray," Ziegler wrote in her second letter, which was sent on March 16. "The Borough of Clayton ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by promoting a religious activity in its official motto."