Judge rules against cross on county seal

A federal judge on Sept. 28 sided with FFRF and its local members in declaring unconstitutional a Latin cross on a Pennsylvania county seal and flag.

U.S. District Judge Edward Smith’s decision against Lehigh County, Pa., can only be described as begrudging. But he concedes that “a reasonable observer would perceive the county seal as endorsing Christianity.” Smith noted that the yellow 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.

“The undisputed facts demonstrate that the county’s original purpose for including a cross on the seal is not secular,” Smith writes. “The county’s stated reason for retaining the seal in 2015 was to honor its original settlers who were Christian, and the county clarified that it based this reasoning on an interpretation of Commissioner [Harry] Hertzog’s statements.”

The federal lawsuit was filed in August 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, naming Lehigh County as sole defendant. FFRF’s co-plaintiffs are four of its local members who’ve objected to encountering the religious symbol on county property. 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 county commissioners voted to appeal the decision, which will be filed in the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals.

FFRF warmly thanks its four local plaintiffs who made the lawsuit possible: John Berry, Stephen Meholic, David Simpson and Candace Winkler. The litigation is being handled by Marcus B. Schneider of Pittsburgh, with assistance from FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Elizabeth Cavell.

Freedom From Religion Foundation