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FFRF seeks secular borough seal and motto in New Jersey

ClaytonNJSealThe Freedom From Religion Foundation wants a New Jersey borough to get rid of its unmistakably religious seal and motto.

The official seal of the borough of Clayton depicts a church and a Latin cross, with the accompanying motto reading: "A Great Place to Live and Play, Work and Pray."

The inclusion of a cross and church on the official seal and the declaration that the borough is a great place to pray violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF asserts. The borough's logo signals an endorsement of Christianity and prayer.

"Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause," wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler in a letter last September to Clayton Mayor Tom Bianco. "Federal courts have also consistently ruled that religious symbolism, and crosses specifically, on municipal seals are unconstitutional." 

In addition, FFRF insists that the borough of Clayton make an effort to be inclusive, since 30 percent of Americans and 43 percent of Millennials are non-Christian, practicing either a minority religion or no religion at all. If Clayton has a sectarian seal and declares itself to be a great place to pray, this ostracizes such citizens of the borough.

The borough responded to FFRF that the seal and the motto were nothing more than a reflection of its history, citing no law to back up its assertions. Ziegler contends in a recent follow-up letter that such an argument is untenable.

"The federal courts have consistently held that religious symbolism on official city seals is unconstitutional, even in the face of claims that the religious portions are in some way historical," Ziegler writes. "Similarly, it's not a city's place to declare that it's a good place to pray. The borough of Clayton ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by promoting a religious activity in its official motto. . . . The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages." 

FFRF is urging the borough of Clayton to adopt a new seal and motto that are constitutional and inclusive of all of its residents.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church separation watchdog group with 23,000 nonreligious members nationally, including almost 500 in New Jersey.