‘Acknowledging the beliefs and values of the County’s early settlers…does not establish a religion…’
(Katie J. Read, Liberty Headlines) The Freedom From Religion Foundation is fighting to scrub a small white cross from the center of the seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
The county has asked a federal court to blunt the atheist group’s attempt, and protect the seal and its historical and cultural significance.
According to Becket, a non-profit, public-interest law firm legally representing the county, the cross honors Lehigh’s early German settlers – who, when they came to the America, fled religious persecution in their home country.
This is the crux of the county’s argument: It is legal to recognize, celebrate, and honor history, even if that includes religious aspects.
“Every symbol on the County seal represents a unique piece of its history,” said Joe Davis, counsel at Becket. “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.”
The seal, which was adopted by the county in the 1940s, portrays more than a cross.
It includes elements that represent its history, economy, and culture, which include its religious aspects.
The seal features, for example, cement silos, a bison head, a red heart, an oil lamp and books, the Liberty Bell, and the cross.
The seal has not attracted any controversy for the last 70 years, according to Becket.
But FFRF now argues the seal’s cross promotes Christianity as the official religion of the county.
In 2016, FFRF sued Lehigh County over the seal.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in FFRF’s favor in September 2017.
Lehigh County followed Monday when it asserted to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that the seal merely represents cultural history and its religious elements ought not to be expunged.
In its defense of Lehigh County, Becket compiled a 24-page addendum listing the many flags, seals, and other government property that makes use of religious — not only Christian — symbols.
New Mexico’s flag, for example, features only an image of the sacred sun symbol of the Zia Native American tribe.
Mormon pioneers appear on Utah’s flag and seal.
In the American southwest, many seals and flags harken back to the early influence of Spanish Catholics in the area.