Court upholds Lehigh County’s right to display seal with Latin cross
Lehigh County’s official seal, which features a Latin cross and other symbols relating to the county’s history may continue to be displayed in public.
According to information provided by Becket Law, which represented the county in the lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Third Circuit of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled 3-0 on Aug. 8 that the county can maintain the Latin cross in the seal.
This ruling followed a June 20 Supreme Court 7-2 ruling favoring Bladensburg, Md., which was challenged for having an historic war memorial in the form of a cross on public land.
In a news release sent to the media, Becket Law stated: “Lehigh County’s seal, which has been in use for over 70 years without any complaints, 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 over a dozen other images — such as grain silos, textiles, the Liberty Bell, and a red heart – representing important aspects of the county’s rich history and culture.
“Becket represented Lehigh County, arguing that 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.”
The Press contacted Lehigh County Commissioner Brad Osborne asking for a comment on the court’s decision.
He emailed The Press the following statement:
“From the beginning of this conflict, I recognized that the cross represents the rich history of our county, which is why the commissioners declined to alter the seal in response to the threat of a lawsuit.
“The court’s decision vindicates that view. Since the Lehigh County seal has stood almost 75 years without complaint, it is a great example of how our community can respect diverse views and values even as we learn from the past.”
Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket, also commented on the court’s ruling.
“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,’” said Verm. “It is only right that Lehigh County can continue honoring its history and culture.”
The news release from Becket Law noted that in September 2017, a federal judge ruled in FFRF’s favor, following the Supreme Court case, Lemon v. Kurtzman.
This required courts to guess whether the government was trying to “endorse” religion whenever it mentioned God or religion.
Becket argued that judges must apply the actual text and historical meaning of the First Amendment.
According to Becket Law, 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 this nation’s founding are still acceptable today.