The Freedom From Religion Foundation is looking to remove the Latin Cross from Lehigh County’s official government seal.
The Morning Call reports that the seal has long featured images associated to Lehigh Valley since the 1940s, including the cross. For over 70 years, the seal has been visible on government buildings, parks, county documents and the website, and has even been displayed during county meetings behind the commissioner. It has never been an issue until now.
The FFRF, a nonprofit based in Wisconsin whose goal is to promote the separation of church and state, is asking the county to remove the cross because they claim that it is unconstitutional. They wrote a letter to County Executive Tom Muller asking for the change – one of nearly 1,000 letters that they sent in 2013 alone.
Patrick C. Elliott, an attorney for the group, said the inclusion of the cross on the seal violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that "at the very least prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief."
"It makes no difference what justification the county provides for including the cross on the Lehigh County seal," Elliott wrote in his letter. "Courts addressing similar depictions have found that the inclusion of a Latin cross on government seals and logos violates the Establishment Clause.
"We'd like them to cease using it and come up with a [seal] that is representative of everyone in the county, not just the Christian community," Elliott said.
Many in the Pennsylvania area have taken a strong stance on the controversy, including Sam Rohrer, president of the American Pastors Network, who labeled the FFRF a "atheistic, God-resisting, God-denying organization.”
"Their interest is not defending the Constitution," he said. "Their interest is pursuing a special interest that is atheistic and that is opposed to what this nation is in every way."
"I'm not one to run from a fight," said one county resident, Lower Milford Township Supervisor William Roy, to commissioners at their Mar. 11 meeting. "I'm asking you to take this challenge and preserve our county seal with the cross intact. This is our heritage. This is our history. We shouldn't run from this."
The county would have to argue the historical significance of the cross to be successful in court and retain the cross, explained George A. Nation III, a professor of law and business at Lehigh University.
"What the Constitution does is prohibit the establishment of a religion by government," Nation said. "It doesn't keep religion out of government. It keeps government from picking a religion to be a winner or the official religion."
According to The Morning Call, An undated Call-Chronicle story about the seal says the cross in the center of the shield represents "Christians who settled in Lehigh County,” before it was adopted in 1944.
Despite many county residents and authorities sharing their opinions on the situation, the county officials have no yet made a decision. County commissioners have reportedly met privately on just two occasions, but have not yet decided whether to keep the seal or modify it to avoid going to court.
"We anticipate making a decision shortly," said Brad Osborne, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. "And that will be in public session when we do."
Sources: The Morning Call
Photo Source: Flickr, mcall.com