County Seal with Cross May Remain

Aug 9, 2019

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the official seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania can remain on government property, despite efforts from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to have it removed because it contains a Latin cross.

In FFRF v. County of Lehigh, the court stated that the seal does not violate the Establishment Clause because the “Lemon Test,” which has been previously used in courts to determine if a law violates the First Amendment, is no longer applicable to religious monument cases.

In the opinion, the court stated, “We now hold that Lemon does not apply to religious references and imagery in public monuments, symbols, mottos, displays, and ceremonies . . . As the Supreme Court held in American Legion, such longstanding symbols benefit from a strong presumption of constitutionality…American Legion confirms that Lemon does not apply to religious references or imagery in public monuments, symbols, mottos, displays, and ceremonies.”

For almost 75 years, the official seal of Lehigh County has included a Latin cross surrounded by nearly a dozen secular symbols of historical, patriotic, cultural, and economic significance to the community. In December 1944, the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted the seal and agreed to purchase a flag depicting it. Commissioner Harry D. Hertzog, who designed and voted for the seal, explained two years later: “in center of Shield appears the huge cross in canary-yellow signifying Christianity and the God-fearing people which are the foundation and backbone of our County.” 

Picture Credit: First Liberty Institute

Liberty Counsel currently represents Fulton County and Jackson County against attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to remove Nativity scenes and holiday displays from government property.

In 2017, a federal district court ruled in favor of Liberty Counsel’s client, Levy County, Florida, and dismissed a lawsuit brought by a national atheist group claiming that the Ten Commandments monument next to the Levy County courthouse violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court also concluded that there was no evidence that Levy County’s monument guidelines were created to favor religious monuments over secular monuments.

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