‘It is only right that Lehigh County can continue honoring its history and culture…’
(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) A federal appeals court ruled that a Pennsylvania county can keep the cross on its seal after a group of atheists tried to have it removed.
The Lehigh County seal has contained a small cross for more than “70 years without complaint,” the three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled, and “no evidence suggests this was due to a ‘climate of intimidation.’”
Thus, the county seal does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, it said.
The court’s ruling overturned a lower court’s decision, which said Lehigh County must redo its seal and keep religious symbols out of it.
Instead, the appellate panel said, the seal “has become part of the community,” representing the county’s early German settlers who fled to the U.S. seeking religious freedom.
“It is common sense that religion played a role in the lives of our nation’s early settlers. Recognizing that is just as constitutional as honoring symbols like the Liberty Bell,’” Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket, a nonprofit legal group that represented Lehigh County, said in a statement. “It is only right that Lehigh County can continue honoring its history and culture.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a well-known group of atheist advocates, tried to force Lehigh County to remove the cross, filing a lawsuit in 2016 and arguing its seal is an official endorsement of religion.
The appeals court disagreed and said the cross, though “undeniably the focal point of the Lehigh County seal,” is not a religious symbol because it is surrounded by other historical images.
“Whether historical, patriotic, cultural, or economic, they are all secular symbols,” the judges found. “The seal as a whole therefore ‘suggests little or nothing of the sacred,’ even though the Latin cross alone has undeniably religious significance,” the court’s opinion read, according to WFMZ.
“In short, the seal as a whole falls well short of establishing a religion,” the court ruled.