County Fights Back After Official Seal's Cross Is Ruled Unconstitutional
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A Pennsylvania county is fighting back after a federal judge ordered the cross that adorns its official seal removed on grounds its placement is unconstitutional, National Review reported Tuesday.
Earlier this fall, U.S. District Judge Edward Smith ruled that the cross in the center of the 73-year-old official Seal of Lehigh County, Pa. must be removed from future official documentation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with four local residents, sued the Allentown-area county, alleging that the cross violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
When the seal was made official in 1944, the yellow cross was included to honor the "Christian and God-fearing people" the county was founded by, back in 1812.
Other decorations on the seal, including items highlighting the county's agricultural heritage, as well as an image representing the former Coplay-Portland cement mills, will remain.
As of November 1, the county - 100 miles west of New York City - is under an injunction that prohibits "any and all use, display or implementation" of the current seal, according to WFMZ-69.
In making his September ruling, Smith said the seal didn't violate the text of the Establishment Clause, but that higher courts have used an "endorsement test" to determine whether a symbol could be perceived as the government endorsing a religion.
According to the magazine, Smith said he must follow such tests "even if he doesn't fully agree."
The Republican-majority county commission recently voted 6-3 to appeal the ruling to the Third Circuit.
Last week, the county hired the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty - the same organization that defended Hobby Lobby in its recent suit - to help them in their own appeal.
Two local legislators, State Reps. Justin Simmons (R-Coopersburg) and Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lower Macungie) both argue that the cross is a historic symbol rather than a religious one in the case of the county seal.
"The cross on the seal represents an important part of the area's history," Mackenzie told the magazine, while Simmons called the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit "ridiculous" and an example of "cultural decay" in the United States.
The two men also are facing each other in the primary battle to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) in 2018.