Judge orders Lehigh County to abandon seal

A federal judge has ordered a Pennsylvania county to get rid of its seal that prominently features a Latin cross. The order follows up on a major court victory the FFRF obtained against Lehigh County in September.

“The Lehigh County seal adopted by the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 28, 1944, and all subsequent adaptations and versions of it that are currently being used or displayed and that feature the Latin cross (collectively the ‘Lehigh County Seal’) violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” says the order issued by U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith.

In his decision, the judge noted that the Christian cross, which both parties agree is “the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity,” dwarfs other symbols on the seal and therefore shows unconstitutional county endorsement of a particular religion.

The seal is on documents, letterhead, many official county forms and reports, the county’s website, in a display in the Board of Commissioners meeting room and even on flags displayed prominently at the entrance of county buildings.

The board adopted the imagery that appears on the seal in 1944. Allentown, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania, is located in Lehigh County, with a population of about 350,000.

Smith prohibited any use or display of the seal by Lehigh County after 180 days. However, the 180-day timeline will not start until any appeal by the county has concluded.

The judge also awarded nominal damages to each plaintiff in the amount of $1. During the appeal, the county is prohibited from implementing any new uses of the seal beyond those that are currently being practiced.

The litigation is being handled by Marcus B. Schneider of Pittsburgh, with assistance from FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Elizabeth Cavell.

FFRF thanks its four local plaintiffs who made possible the lawsuit: John Berry, Stephen Meholic, David Simpson, and Candace Winkler.

Freedom From Religion Foundation