The Freedom From Religion Foundation is prodding a Tennessee county to be more inclusive.
Many Williamson County residents have in recent years called for the retirement of the existing county seal due to the Confederate battle flag displayed inside the top left of the seal. The county voted to remove the flag in October of last year but the change requires approval by the Tennessee Historical Commission, which has yet to vote on this issue. There is another problem with the current seal, however, as a county resident has informed the state/church watchdog: It includes a bible and church window, which appears to also be a Latin cross representing Christianity.
Christian religious imagery on the official Williamson County seal violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF emphasizes.
“The seal signals an endorsement of Christianity,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line has written to the Williamson County Board of Commissioners. “This ‘sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.
Federal courts have ruled that religious symbols on official city logos or representations violate the Establishment Clause, FFRF adds. The Williamson County seal design is akin to numerous other unconstitutional municipal representations.
And regardless of the unconstitutionality of the seal, the county should remove exclusionary religious images from its official representations as a matter of policy, just as with the exclusionary Confederate flag image. Nearly 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are non-Christian and 24 percent practice no religion at all. By remaining neutral on matters of religion, the county would embrace the diversity of its citizens, including non-Christian religious citizens and citizens who are nonreligious.
FFRF’s arguments seem to have found receptive ears.
“If the decision made by the Tennessee Historical Commission permits alteration of the seal, Williamson County’s Commission will then consider whether to alter parts of the seal, redesign the seal in its entirety, or retire the seal,” the county’s legal counsel has recently replied. “It is not our intention for any portion of our seal to exclude any citizen or to favor any one segment of our citizenry over another. When we are in a position to consider all of our options with regard to the seal, we will give careful and serious attention to the issues raised in your letter, along with all other relevant matters, in making our final determination.”
FFRF appreciates the positive response.
“We realize that there is a formal process for a redesigned seal to be approved,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The county’s reply makes us hopeful, though, that the new seal will be truly inclusive of all Williamson County residents.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members and a chapter in Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.