Salisbury Press

Monday, November 11, 2019
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOIn a ruling Aug. 8, Lehigh County can continue to use the 70-year-old county seal. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOIn a ruling Aug. 8, Lehigh County can continue to use the 70-year-old county seal.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019 by Debbie Galbraith in Local News

Appeals court rejects attempt to censor symbols of history and culture

In a court decision Aug. 8, Lehigh County is free to continue displaying its 70-year-old seal, including an image of a Latin cross.

In a news release issued by Becket, the law firm representing the county in FFRF v. Lehigh County, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled 3-0 that after the Supreme Court upheld the Bladensburg Cross war memorial as a historic monument, Lehigh County can maintain its seal as a symbol that ‘has become part of the community.’”

The suit was brought in 2016 by a Wisconsin-based atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation who attempted to censor the image of a cross from Lehigh County’s historic seal.

In 2017, a federal judge ruled in FFRF’s favor following a Supreme Court case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, which requires courts to determine whether the government is trying to “endorse” religion whenever it mentions God or religion.

The seal features a cross representing the county’s early German settlers who fled persecution in their homeland seeking religious freedom in America. The seal also features other images such as grain silos, textiles, the Liberty Bell and a red heart.

Becket represented Lehigh County saying, “...the Constitution allows communities to maintain religious symbols in the public square in recognition of the significant role of religion in our history and culture,” Becket media representative Ryan Colby said.

“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, said. “It is only right that Lehigh County can continue honoring its history and culture.”

Becket argued judges must apply the actual text and historical meaning of the First Amendment.

“The Supreme Court has since moved away from the so-called Lemon test, ruling that religious symbols in government and in the public square that were acceptable at our nation’s founding are still acceptable today. The court today followed that precedent,” Colby said.

“This decision is another nail in the coffin of the Lemon test, making room for our nation’s founding principle that religion is not a blight to be scrubbed from the public square, especially when it represents our history,” Verm said.

Lehigh County Commissioners referred all questions to Becket.