The seal of Lehigh County Pennsylvania
The cross at the center of the Lehigh County seal can stay, per the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is the first to directly reference the precedent set by the Bladensburg Peace Cross case.

The cross at the literal center of the County of Lehigh Pennsylvania’s seal has been deemed constitutional by an appeals court, some 75 years after its original design.

Citing the recent Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of the Bladensburg Peace Cross, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted unanimously that the Lehigh seal in question did not violate the establishment clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment. This will overturn the previous decision of a lower court.

“The Latin cross at issue here no doubt carries religious significance,” read the opinion written by Circuit Judge Thomas M. Hardiman. “But more than seven decades after its adoption, the seal has become a familiar, embedded feature of Lehigh County, attaining a broader meaning than any one of its many symbols.”

Four members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Lehigh County in 2016 after officials refused to stop using the seal. The seal, which contains the image of a cross behind the county courthouse, appears on county flags, vehicles, and their website.

The Lemon Test

Until quite recently, the Lemon test (named for the 1971 Supreme Court decision in the Lemon v. Kurtzman case) has helped determine whether legislation regarding religion is constitutional or not. The Lemon test requires that the legislation must have a secular purpose, must neither advance nor inhibit religion, and must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

Despite that, the appeals court opinion, citing the recent Bladensburg Cross case, decided the Lemon test simply does not apply to ‘religious references or imagery in public monuments, symbols, mottos, displays, and ceremonies.’

Senior Counsel Diana Verm, whose law firm represented Lehigh County and has defended the use of crosses in other public displays, insisted “this decision is another nail in the coffin of the Lemon test, making room for our nation’s founding principle that religion is not a blight to be scrubbed from the public square, especially when it represents our history.”

Monumental Decisions

Similar monument controversies have popped up all over the country in recent years. Notably, an otherwise sleepy South Carolina city scrubbed and eventually removed a memorial to fallen police officers that featured scripture from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor characterized this most recent decision in Pennsylvania as ultimately detrimental to the 30 percent of non-Christians in the U.S.:

“We predicted this outcome after the blow dealt to the Constitution by the ‘Mitch McConnell’-molded Supreme Court in the Bladensburg case. Our framers were first in history to adopt an entirely godless Constitution with no deity, no Christianity, no bible or Ten Commandments in it. So we are extremely alarmed at the signals the high court is sending to lower courts, and the precedent in Bladensburg.”

What are your thoughts? Are these Christian symbols tantamount to government endorsement? Should we remove them, regardless of their historic significance? Or is scrubbing every religious reference from county seals and government property an exercise in futility?

13 comments

  1. Lionheart says:

    Yes it should be removed. I wouldn’t want to see “any” religious symbol on a State seal..

    🦁♥️

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      A cross, in and of itself, is not a symbol of Christianity, but a crucifix, a cross with the figure of Jesus on it, is. And the cross bar on a true crucifix is higher than its center. Crucifixes also usually have a horizontal emblem near the top with the capital letters INRI written on it. The shape of a cross is a powerful symbol, and has nothing to do with Christianity. A christian organization or individual might display a cross and say it represents Jesus, and to some it does, but to many others it doesn’t mean any such thing. You can call yourself a duck all you want, but that won’t make you grow wings and fly away. Crosses have been used as magickal talismans since long before the birth of Christ and the beginning of Judaism, from which christian beliefs originated (I add for those ignorant Christians who didn’t have a clue). I often wear a sterling silver and 14 carat gold crucifix on a sterling silver chain around my neck,which I got from one of those buy now, pay later catalogs. At the very least, I get more smiles in public when wearing it. That is, until they see the sterling silver pentagram dangling from my left ear, or the stainless steel Lord Baphomet ring ( the one I kiss three times whenever I put it on) on my middle finger. However, as long as I don’t raise a clenched fist and ask if they’ve met the horned god, they’re usually safe.

  2. William Waugh says:

    You know, this whole thing is getting old. The primary thoughts surrounding any religion should be positive. Crosses on display such as this reflect history. If you want your own religious symbol, build a town, create a positive history there and then emblazen your positive emblem on your seal. This does need to taken on a case by case basis but having an historic record of settlement seems to me to be more substantial than the largely fickle aspirations of a dubious 30% of the whole population that is spread about everywhere. Accept the history of the nation ( community) you live in and find positive ways to improve it going forward. Don’t ever forget that most countries will imprison or behead you for not embracing the status quo. Attacking the established chuches symbology is just that. An attack. Enjoy your freedoms granted by a secular/christain society and go about the business of building your own history…….I’m leaning toward panpsychism so I really don’t care. All religion (any) is just man’s first attempt to understand the universe. Before man looked to the stars, they all thought the earth was flat. Eyes wide shut.

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      Why would a true American who loves this nation want to think about what goes on in other countries. Have you been shopping around for a new home, Willy? Mexico needs more people. Just food for thought.

  3. John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON says:

    actually, it supports the Lemon Test. The seal doesn’t show any support for a specific faith, it uses a historical symbol. (and this is coming from a Pagan) Christianity does use the Latin cross, yes, but which branch of Christianity is being used? Don’t forget, there are almost as many branches of Christianity as there are branches of Hinduism. The problem is partially that people are thinking that something from a century ago should have today’s set of rules applied to it. Much like the big to-do about “Baby, it’s cold outside” last Christmas. Humanity, hopefully, is evolving and getting better, but to erase everything historical does a disservice.

  4. Carl Elfstrom says:

    You can experience the supernatural in Mexico too, William. Check out the Santeria while you’re there. But if they mention using you for the nganga for the Caldero you better high-tail it out of there. Pronto!

    1. Baba Barkley says:

      The “U” in “ULC” represents “Universal” not “USA”. This is not an appropriate place for prejudice in favour of one particular country as having some superiority over others.
      The cross symbol predates Judeo-christianity. If the seal of any official organization must contain no symbol that was ever a religious symbol, then official seals must contain NO symbols. No circles, triangles, stars, and no letters of the alphabet. Medical seals would have to be removed from all doctor’s certificates.
      The Australian passport cover has 6 or more symbols that have been used as religions symbols in the past.(6 symbols not counting the Kangaroo.) I never heard of anybody that had so much time to waste that they bother complaining about that religions symbols on passports.
      If somebody really wanted to get serious about no historical religious symbols in their daily life, stop using the US dollar.

      I personally feel what I feel looking at any symbol, and of course that varies depending upon my personal choice of consciousness at any given time.

      I do not get a religious feeling looking at a cross. The letter “Z” excites me much more.

  5. Laurie Cleveland says:

    It’s about time that the court upheld the Constitution.

  6. K.O. says:

    To someone who said, “Humanity, hopefully, is evolving and getting better” … seriously? Based on what? The 20th Century saw 200,000,000 dead because of man’s inhumanity to man. Quite possibly the deadliest century since Homo sapiens arrived some 200,000 years ago. As a character in a 2007 movie said, “”As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?” Anyway …
    ============
    As a general principle, I much prefer government at all levels to stay out of religion (but NOT the other way around, that would be turning the 2nd Amendment on its head. Religious have as much right for their beliefs to inform their politics as alien abductees, tree huggers and climate doomsayers do (arguably religions also, given the broad nature of the term these days.)

    However, the Constitution says what it says … not what nine unelected people (often five!), who decidedly do NOT leave their politics at the door (oh, they do, do they? prove it), decide it means. (And don’t get me started on the judicial overreach (both ways, btw, if you’re a political party lemming) in this country that goes back at least to John Marshall, or the “education” law school students receive.)

    The 1st Amendment does NOT say that there shall be no establishments of religion in the states. In fact the first Congress pointedly rejected James Madison’s proposal to address the question of state establishment of religion. The purpose of the 1st Amendment was to ensure that Congress would neither establish a religion for the United States (as England had done) nor interfere in the religious policy of individual states – including, for example, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire – that retained their colonial religious establishments.

    James Madison agreed to support a bill of rights in the Constitution, if it meant that it would be ratified. Several of the states included suggested amendments, including rights of the people, in their ratification documents. The push was on for a bill of rights in the Constitution. Madison was true to his word — on June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison rose and gave a speech in the House where he introduced a series of articles of amendment. One concerned religious freedom:

    “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”

    Madison’s proposal follows the proposals of some of the states. New Hampshire’s read:

    “Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or to infringe the rights of conscience.”

    Through the debates in the House, Senate, and conference committees, the wording of all of these proposals was whittled down to the religion clauses of what is our 1st Amendment:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
    ============
    And just who was this (Supreme Court Justice) Hugo L. Black, who gave the world the majority’s opinion in Everson v. Board of Education (1947, a 5-4 decision), writing in part, “”In the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State’…. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”

    [Background … Following one of the most bitterly contested elections in history, Jefferson was inaugurated the 3rd President of the United States on March 4, 1801. On January 1, 1802 he wrote a letter in reply to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, a beleaguered religious and political minority in a region where Jefferson’s political opponents and their party (Congregationalist-Federalist) dominated political life. The letter read in part:

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Now …

    1. Thomas Jefferson played no role whatsoever in drafting and adopting the Establishment clause.
    2. Thomas Jefferson was not the author of the US Constitution. Indeed, he had absolutely nothing to do with its text – he was serving as the US Ambassador to France at the time.
    3. Jefferson was neither a member of the first Congress that drafted the 1st Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification, nor was he a member of the Virginia General Assembly that voted to ratify it.
    4. The letter to the Baptists was written a decade after the 1st Amendment’s ratification.
    5. Jefferson’s personal letters obviously have no credible bearing on Constitutional law.]

    Anyway, back to Black…

    On August 11, 1921 Fr. James Coyle, a Roman Catholic priest in Birmingham, Alabama, was shot to death on the porch of his rectory by E.R. Stephensen, a local Ku Klux Klansman. Fr. Coyle had just performed a wedding between Stephensen’s daughter and her Puerto Rican husband.

    Stephenson was defended by five lawyers, four of whom were Klan members. The fifth lawyer who volunteered to defend Stephenson was Hugo Black, a prominent local attorney. Despite the fact that the Catholic priest was unarmed and the murder was committed in public in front of witnesses, Stephensen was acquitted of murder based on “self-defense”and “temporary insanity”.

    Two years later, on September 11, 1923 defense attorney Black joined the Robert E. Lee Klan No. 1 in Alabama after the trial. In the Klan, Black was a Kladd of the Klavern for the largest Klan cell in the South. A Kladd of the Klavern was an initiator of new Klansmen.

    New members of the KKK had to pledge their allegiance to the “eternal separation of Church and State.” Separation was a crucial part of the KKK’s jurisprudential agenda. It was included in the Klansman’s Creed.

    On July 9, 1925, as one of his first moves before running for one of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, Klansman Black resigned his membership (ironically the resignation letter was written on the golden yellow official stationery of the Grand Dragon of Alabama in legible longhand. He signed it “Yours, I.T.S.U.B., Hugo L. Black.” I.T.S.U.B. = in the sacred and unfailing bond.

    Black subsequently barnstormed the state, campaigning on a virulent anti-Catholic platform and demanding “a wall of separation between church and state”. His strongest support came from his Klan base, and he gave many anti-Catholic “wall of separation” speeches to Klan meetings across Alabama.

    Black, a Democrat, won the Alabama senate seat in 1926, defeating his Republican opponent with 80.9 % of the vote. He easily won re-election in 1932, with 86.3 % of the vote. He was a staunch defender of FDR’s New Deal and of Roosevelt’s court-packing plan.

    In 1937 FDR appointed Black to the Supreme Court, and he was sworn in as an Associate Justice on August 18, 1937. Less than one month later, a front page article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed his Klan connections, including “Klansman Black’s (Temporary) Resignation”:

    “Hugo Lafayette Black, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, is a member of the hooded brotherhood … He holds his membership in the masked and oath-bound legion as he holds his high office in the nation’s Supreme tribunal – for life. … Black bears the proud distinction that not a half dozen other men in the United States can claim. The cloaked and hooded Knights of the Klan have bestowed upon him the solid gold engraved Grand Passport that betokens life membership in the mysterious super-government that once rules half a continent with terror and violence. … Klansman Black resigned from the Klan July 9, 1925. His resignation … was the first move of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for United States Senator from Alabama. Klansman Black and the leaders of the Klan decided it was good political strategy for Black to make the senatorial race unimpeded by Klan membership but backed by the power of the Klan. That resignation, filed for the duration of the campaign but never revealed to the rank and file of the ordering held secretly in the records of the Alabama realm, is reproduced with this series of articles. … Black was welcomed back into the Klan at a great state meeting or Klorero of the Klan held in Birmingham Klan headquarters, South Twentieth street, Birmingham, September 2, 1926. Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans and leading Klansmen from other states attended. Klansman Hugo L. Black was at this meeting made a life member of the hooded order and was presented with a gold membership card in the Klan.”

    As Casey Kasem used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

  7. Secretary3rd says:

    How about that cow. Is that not from a religion. Who cares about all the other religions in the country, if they do not like they can send a letter via the post office and complain.

  8. T'Keren Valmaz says:

    Funy enough it really looks more like an inverted cross which while some think is satanic is actually called the cross of saint peter and actually should be the way those who believe in christianity wear the symbol unless they legit think themselves the equal of jesus.

    1. K.O. says:

      If you look more closely, I think you’ll notice that the longitudinal beam of the cross continues below the depiction of a building (county court house?) and the banner that says “Lehigh County”. So I believe it’s not a Petrine Cross – which btw I didn’t know about, so thanks for the information.

      1. T'Keren Valmaz says:

        Oh I saw the end sticking out at the bottom I just think its funny that at first glance it looks upside down. And glad I was able to spread a bit of knowledge. I can safely say I did at least something good on this forum then.

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