Judge Reluctantly Rules Pennsylvania County Can’t Include Christian Cross on Official Seal

LEHIGH COUNTY, Pa. — A federal judge in Pennsylvania has reluctantly ruled that a county in the Commonwealth can’t include a Christian cross in its official seal.

U.S. District Judge Edward Smith, nominated to the bench by then-President Barack Obama, wrote in his ruling that he doesn’t believe that Lehigh County’s inclusion of a cross in its 73-year-old seal violates the Establishment Clause in the way that the Founding Fathers intended when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

“Lehigh County’s seal is a passive symbol that does not coerce any citizen to practice or adhere to Christianity, and does not establish a county religion. Thus, the seal does not violate the plain text of the Establishment Clause. Nor does it establish religion in the way the drafters of the First Amendment imagined,” he stated.

However, Smith said that he felt he had to adhere to the standards of higher courts that have concluded otherwise.

“Higher courts, however, have delineated a different mechanism by which the court must determine whether the seal survives constitutional scrutiny,” Smith continued. “While the court may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test.”

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had filed a lawsuit against Lehigh County in August 2016 on behalf of four residents who asserted that the inclusion of the cross on the county seal, which appears on official documents and inside of government buildings, violates the separation of Church and State.

“As a resident of Lehigh County, Mr. Simpson has been subjected to viewing the seal, which he finds offensive,” the legal challenge read. “Mr. Simpson does not want his county government to be represented by a Christian symbol.”

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“The display of the Latin cross by Lehigh County has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing Defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion,” it also contended. “The adoption and display of the Latin cross constitutes an endorsement of religion by Lehigh County.”

However, in analyzing the suit, Judge Smith noted that the Founding Father’s prohibition on the establishment of religion only related to a national establishment similar to the Church of England, which the Puritans sought to escape so they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.

“There is ample historical evidence to suggest that James Madison, the First Amendment’s drafter, was concerned with the establishment of a national religion similar to that of the Church of England that would encroach on citizens’ freedom of conscience, compel conformity, and levy taxes in its name,” he wrote.

“By including a Latin cross on the Seal, the County has chosen to celebrate the Christian values important throughout its history. The County has not, however, legally compelled its citizens to practice and conform to Christianity, infringed on freedom of conscience, or created political conflict between the Christian Church and other religious sects,” Smith continued.

“Simply put, the County of Lehigh did not intend to ‘establish’ religion or institute a County religion when it adopted Commissioner Herzog’s design for the seal.”

However, the judge felt that he must follow court precedent such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Lemon test,” and the Third Circuit’s “endorsement test,” in which judges decide whether the symbol at issue “has a secular purpose,” as well as whether an observer would consider the image as being an endorsement of a particular religion.

“In this case, the reasonable observer would know that the cross is a symbol of Christianity, that the settlers of Lehigh County were Christian, and that Commissioner Hertzog designed the seal with the God-fearing people of the county in mind,” Smith wrote. “With this knowledge base in mind, the court must conclude that a reasonable observer would perceive the seal as endorsing Christianity.”

Therefore, with reluctance, and clearly expressing his belief that the symbol did not violate the Establishment Clause in the way that the founders intended, he said that he had to rule against the symbol due to the tests that the courts have created.

FFRF has applauded the decision. The County has not yet indicated whether it plans to appeal.

As previously reported, in a recent dissenting opinion in a New Mexico Ten Commandments case, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Paul Kelly, Jr. and Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich noted that the Establishment Clause is being interpreted incorrectly and not in “the historical understanding of an ‘establishment of religion,’ and thus with what the First Amendment actually prohibits.”

They explained that “[e]stablishment was … the norm in the American Colonies. Exclusive Anglican establishments reigned in the southern states, whereas localized Puritan establishments were the norm in New England, except in Rhode Island.”

This began in Europe, “the continent of origin for most American colonists,” Kelly outlined. “[E]ach country had long established its own state church—a generalized version of cuius regio, eius religio—over which each government exercised varying degrees of control. Germany and Scandinavia had official Lutheran establishments; Holland, a Reformed state church; France, the Gallican Catholic Church; Ireland, the Church of Ireland; Scotland, the Church of Scotland; and so on.”

Therefore, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution regarding “respecting an establishment” only referred to showing favoritism to one state establishment over another, and solely applied to the federal government.

“From the words of the text, though, two conclusions are relatively clear: first, the provision originally limited the federal government and not the states, many of which continued to support established churches; and second, the limitation respected only an actual ‘establishment of religion,’” the federal judges outlined.


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  • bowie1

    I suppose perpendicular intersecting roads could be deemed to promote religion since it may have the appearance of a cross!

    • The Dove

      I’m wondering when it will become illegal to cross one’s legs.

      Gotta watch those nasty old theocrats, they’re very sneaky.

  • Jerome Horwitz

    Judge has no spine.

    • mr goody two shoes

      Exactly .

    • dansLaRue

      I’m pretty sure the judge is able to walk upright…thanks to evolution.

      • Jerome Horwitz

        Point?

        • dansLaRue

          The judge has a spine.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Doubtful. Judge had a chance to stand on and by the Constitution by their own admission and yet chose not to.

          • dansLaRue

            Wow, I’ve never seen an invertebrate on the bench. How would one go about climbing on and not sliding out of that big chair behind the desk?

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Is this your way of telling me you can’t dispute my argument?

            Why not just say you have nothing?

  • revmrblack

    Therefore US District Judge Edward Smith believes that Supreme Court opinions and rulings are an higher authority than the U. S. Constitution? His argument and his reluctance clearly demonstrate that he understands the Supreme Court’s decisions and opinions are contrary to the meaning of the U. S. Constitution. Does this not mean that he has committed perjury in violating his oath to the U. S. Constitution and NOT the Supreme Court decisions?

    • Quince

      The US Constitution is what gives the Supreme Court its authority. To obey the Constitution means obeying Supreme Court rulings.

  • Quince

    The founders did not want government involved in religion. Why did this town think promoting christianity was okay?

  • Cady555

    It would be wrong to place the star of David on the seal of a US city.

    It would be wrong to put Hindu imagery or an atheist symbol on the seal of a US city.

    It is wrong to place a christian symbol on the symbol of a US city.

    No city is “christian” any more than any city is “jewish” or “hindu.”

    One set of rules apply to all.

  • Allen

    My friends there is nothing in the Constitution that says anything about the separation of church and state. That idea was in one of Thomas Jefferson’s Federalist Papers. It has just been talked about so much that many people just think that it is law.

    • Tangent002

      Jefferson was not one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. I think you are referring to Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists.

    • dansLaRue

      You are disregarding the Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment…so you ignore the parts you don’t like?

      • MarkSebree

        You are the one that is ignoring the parts of the Constitution that you do not like. You are ignoring the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the Equal Rights and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

        The reason that this is important is because we are not talking about an individual, we are talking about a government entity. Individuals have a right to follow whatever religion that they want. However, no government entity, nor any person acting in the name of or under the authority of any government entity, may endorse, promote, or disparage any religion. ALL religions MUST be treated equally, and no religion may be given preference or discriminated against.

        Individuals have rights. The government has obligations and restrictions. The government also does NOT have a religious preference, and cannot. The Free Exercise Clause does not apply since there is no individual involved.

        If you think that the Free Exercise Clause applies, then state the individual who that Leigh County, PA seal is supposed to represent.

        • dansLaRue

          Is reading comprehension not your forte? You and I are in agreement on this.

    • Guzzman

      You wrote, “…there is nothing in the Constitution that says anything about the separation of church and state.”
      The very design of the Constitution, the Founders, and the courts say you are wrong. The Constitution separates religion and government by establishing a government where power is based on “We the People”, not on a god, divine sovereignty, or anything related to religion. The Constitution separates religion and government by granting no power of any sort to the government over religious matters. The Constitution separates religion and government by making no mention of religion except to prohibit religious tests as a qualification for office.

      The founders, not just Jefferson, said as much. James Madison repeatedly affirmed that the Constitution provides a “separation between Religion & Govt” (Detached Memoranda, ca.1820). In 1833, Madison argued against the notion of combining religion and government: “In the papal system, government and religion are in a manner consolidated, and that is found to be the worst of government.”

      • Jerome Horwitz

        The phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear anywhere within the Constitution. Not implied or specific, not in whole or in part.

        The Constitution separates religion and government by making no mention of religion except to prohibit religious tests as a qualification for office.

        Liar. The First Amendment specifically says Congress cannot create its own religion, nor can it keep people from practicing theirs.

        The argument is not whether or not our Founding Fathers intended to create a secular nation with the United States of America, but rather if the mere mention of God in a government building immediately and completely turns this nation into a theocracy.

        We have seen such behavior on display from the anti-Christian left to suggest they actually believe this very idea (Unless it’s Islam, of course.).

        • Guzzman

          I was referring to the Constitution itself, which in fact makes no reference to religion except to prohibit religious tests as a qualification for public office (Article VI).

          Outside the body of the Constitution are the two religious clauses of the First Amendment, which acting together have the effect of “building a wall of separation between Church and State” according to Founder Thomas Jefferson. In Reynolds v. United States (1879) the Supreme Court argued that Jefferson’s writings concerning a wall of separation between church and state “may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.”

          You wrote “The First Amendment specifically says Congress cannot create its own religion.” Except that no court in the history of the United States has ever interpreted the Establishment Clause so narrowly as you do. Consider that, as president, Madison vetoed bills, none of which had anything to do with Congress creating its own state-established religion (e.g., bills that would incorporate an Episcopal Church in the city of Alexandria and grant a parcel of Federal land to a Baptist Church in the Mississippi Territory). Madison vetoed these bills on grounds that they nevertheless violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

          Madison, when asked to reflect on the separation between religion and government in the U.S. Constitution had this to say : “The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819).”

          So when we look to the writings and actions of the Founders and to decisions of the court’s, we keep running into this principle referred to by Madison as the “total separation of the church from the State.” Why is that, do you think? Should I take your word over theirs?

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Except that no court in the history of the United States has ever interpreted the Establishment Clause so narrowly as you do.

            The first person to address it was Hugo Black, and only to change its meaning. Everything else you said is completely irrelevant.

          • Guzzman

            So authoritative statements from the Founders and the Supreme Court interpreting the religious clauses of the First Amendment as having the effect of building a wall of separation between religion and government are “completely irrelevant”? Got it.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            BS, pal. We know exactly what was going on. We have historical records leading up to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. We also know all about how and why the Church of England was created.

            For you to even suggest or imply our Founding Fathers were against merely mentioning God or Jesus Christ when there are references all over federal buildings is absolute, flat nonsense.

            Take a seat.

          • Guzzman

            You are having a conversation with yourself. I never said “our Founding Fathers were against merely mentioning God or Jesus Christ.” What they were most assuredly against was giving religion any force of law. The original topic of discussion was of a county government enacting a law to place a Christian cross on an official government seal and flag. The court struck that down as being an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Oh my, my, what a surprise!

            “The settled opinion here [in the United States] is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both.” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

            For some unknown reason you refer to the “American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence”, both of which pre-dated our secular Constitution and the founding of the United States. So where did the Founders ever say that religion and government should be consolidated? And what examples do you have that Jesus Christ was plastered all over Federal buildings?

          • Jerome Horwitz

            No, I am having a conversation with you. You decided to instead ignore my point because I am correct.

            Why do bigots like yourself refuse to admit when they are wrong?

          • Guzzman

            I never argued or even implied that “the mere mention of God in a government building immediately and completely turns this nation into a theocracy.” I merely documented that the Founders understood that the two religious clauses of the First Amendment create a separation between government and religion. The Supreme Court, going back as far as Reynolds v. United States in 1879, agreed with that interpretation. On the other hand, you have provided ZERO support for your claim that the Founders were indifferent to “crosses on government land or flags.”

            And you have yet to explain why Madison, as president, vetoed bills from Congress based on the First Amendment’s Religious Establishment Clause, even though the bills had nothing to do with Congress creating its own religion. You stated “The First Amendment specifically says Congress cannot create its own religion.” There’s obviously something very wrong with your interpretation of the First Amendment.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            I never argued or even implied that “the mere mention of God in a government building immediately and completely turns this nation into a theocracy.”

            Liar. Literally every word that comes out of your mouth makes the argument.

            I merely documented that the Founders understood that the two religious clauses of the First Amendment create a separation between government and religion. The Supreme Court, going back as far as Reynolds v. United States in 1879, agreed with that interpretation.

            And yet you would be unable to find anything dating that far back that said you couldn’t put a cross on a flag. No, that type of crap goes back to Everson v. Board of Education (1947).

            On the other hand, you have provided ZERO support for your claim that the Founders were indifferent to “crosses on government land or flags.”

            Again, you are unable to provide proof otherwise.

            And you have yet to explain why Madison, as president, vetoed bills from Congress based on the First Amendment’s Religious Establishment Clause, even though the bills had nothing to do with Congress creating its own religion.

            And you have yet to explain just what the bills were, as well as in what way they related to your interpretation of the Establishment Clause.

            You have yet to explain how and why James Madison would be offended by a cross on a flag.

            You are sitting at your keyboard, trying to impress people with your knowledge that our Founding Fathers looked at religious expression the same way Josef Stalin did. The problem here is nobody with a working knowledge of US History and the Constitution is buying a single word of your lexiconic hurl. You are talking to someone who took those classes before the BS and so I know good and well you are full of crap.

            But you won’t shut up.

          • Guzzman

            You asked me “to explain how and why James Madison would be offended by a cross on a flag.” If the Christian cross was on an official government seal or flag, yes, Madison, the framer of our secular Constitution, would have seen that as a palpable constitutional violation. Had you been paying attention you may have noticed that I provided numerous quotes from James Madison on the principle that he referred to as “the separation between religion and & Gov’t” (James Madison, Detached Memoranda, circa 1820). Take this one out for a spin. I have numerous others lined up for your reading pleasure:

            “Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together” (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).

          • Jerome Horwitz

            If the Christian cross was on an official government seal or flag, yes, Madison, the framer of our secular Constitution, would have seen that as a palpable constitutional violation.

            Liar.

            http://www(dot)heritage(dot)org/political-process/report/james-madison-and-religious-liberty

          • Guzzman

            Your article supports everything I have been saying all along. James Madison was a proponent of separating church and state. It only stands to reason that Madison would view a Christian cross on an official government seal and flag as a constitutional violation.

            From the article you sent me: “At age 65, in retirement at his estate in Virginia, Madison praised the separation of church and state because, by it, ‘the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased….'”

            “Madison praised the separation of church and state…” Did you even read your own reference?

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Yes. And he meant it as Jefferson did: The protection of the church from the government. Not the exact opposite. Which is why “the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased.”

          • Guzzman

            Your notion that Madison’s and Jefferson’s wall between religion and government works in one direction only – that is, the wall serves to protect religion from government, but not government from religion – has no basis in history, law, or just plain common sense.

            The very idea is self-contradictory: If ANY religious group is free to influence and control government and thereby achieve a privileged status, all others are at risk of falling into disfavor and facing government discrimination and even persecution. One of the primary objectives of the First Amendment was to prevent religious groups from insinuating their religion into government and using the force of law to establish themselves as a state-sponsored religion.

            When Jefferson and Madison use terms such as “wall of separation between church and state”, “total separation of the church from the State”, “separation between religion and & Gov’t in the Constitution”, “perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters”, “the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority”, and so forth, I have to take them at their word.

            Common sense dictates that if government can’t require its officials to support a church in order to hold office (Article VI); may not support a church itself (Establishment Clause); and may not interfere with the worship or belief of any church (Free Exercise Clause), is there really any serious argument that the Founders did not intend to separate church and state?

          • bunnihunni

            Yep. You are an intellectually disabled troll!

      • peanut butter

        st.

    • Reason2012

      You are exactly right. There is no such thing as “separation of church and state” in the Constitution. That phrase came from the time a Pastor wrote a letter to Jefferson expressing his fears that Jefferson would in some way restrict religious freedoms. In response to these fears, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter back to indicate that he would in no way restrict the freedom of religious expression because he saw a wall of separation between church and state.

      So actually the phrase means the exact opposite of what a few claim it means: it re-iterates the First Amendment, that government shall make no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

      First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; And yet those who reject God demand the government establish its own denomination of Christianity with its own version of marriage. A violation of the First Amendment.

      Congress/government also cannnot make a law prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

      A school can decide to, for example, put up Ten Commandment displays and no one can force them not to.
      A school can decide NOT to put up Ten Commandment displays and no one can force them to.
      But in a Christian nation, the populace will be personally choosing to put up Ten Commandment displays often. Those that do not like this can start voting in a large number of people that believe differently and hope it changes.

      That’s liberty.
      That’s freedom.
      That’s the Constitution of the United States many died to create.
      That’s the United States of America, not a third-world country.

      Once Americans start understanding the Constitution, the First Amendment and the lie about “separation to church and state” and take back our right to honor and worship God as people in positions of leadership personally choose and see fit to on a case by case basis.

      • dansLaRue

        A slight correction, “once YOU start understanding the Constitution” . Nobody is infringing your right to whatever religious practice is your pleasure. If you prefer to live in a State where a specific religion is enforced, move to Iran or Saudi Arabia.

  • Guzzman

    A Christian cross prominently featured on a county government seal and flag is blatantly unconstitutional. There is no legal justification for such a flagrant governmental endorsement of religion.

    The excuse that the cross represents the original Christian settlers of the area is phony. The original inhabitants of the land were the Lenape tribe of native Americans. Christian settlers swindled the natives out of a million acres or more by committing fraud. It’s a shameful history of lying and cheating that resulted in driving native tribes off of land they occupied for thousands of years.

    • Kendall Fields

      Then you should hand over your property to the Native Americans.

  • NCOriolesFan

    Here we go again, another religious bigot dictates HIS values over the community’s values – I don’t like the cross so I’m going to sue.

    Boo hoo crybaby.

  • Reason2012

    Seems this judge does not know the very First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech

    If a certain county chooses to put it, they can, because there can be no law prohibiting it.
    If a certain county chooses NOT to put it, they can, because there can be no law forcing them to.

    That’s liberty.
    That’s freedom.
    That’s the United States of America – not a third world anti-Christ country the left is trying to turn us into.

    • Trilemma

      A law had to be made to adopt this seal as the official seal. That law gave preferential treatment to the Christian religion which is a violation of the establishment clause.

      • Kendall Fields

        You guys are hypocrites you know that. You say that having a cross on a seal is violating the first amendment when all you guys are doing is trying to prevent Christianity from being around at all.

    • Cady555

      The first amendment gives rights to individuals. It places restrictions on government.

      Lehigh County is a government entity. It cannot promote religion. It is restricted from promoting religion.

      The people who live in Lehigh County have rights. They have the freedom to use their own property and resources to promote their preferred religion in any way they want.

      They can put 500 crossess on their car and their house and their clothing and no one will care.

  • This is but more fallout from the First Commandment-violating, polytheism-enabling First Amendment and the constitutional framers’ establishment of religion? Yes, you read that correctly:

    “…Although the First Amendment does not allow for establishing one religion over another, by eliminating Christianity as the federal government’s religion of choice (achieved by Article 6’s interdiction against Christian test oaths), Amendment 1 authorized equality for all non-Christian and even antichristian religions. When the Constitution failed to recognize Christian monotheism, it allowed Amendment 1 to fill the void by authorizing pagan polytheism.

    “Amendment 1 did exactly what the framers proclaimed it could not do: it prohibited the exercise of monotheistic Christianity (except within the confines of its church buildings) and established polytheism in its place. This explains the government’s double standard regarding Christian and non-Christian religions. For example, court participants entering the United States District Court of Appeals for the Middle District of Alabama must walk by a statue of Themis, the Greek goddess of justice. And yet, on November 18, 2002, this very court ruled that Judge Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments Monument violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Despite many Christians’ protests against this hypocrisy, it was in keeping with the inevitable repercussions of the First Amendment.

    “…Christians hang their religious hat on Amendment 1, as if some great moral principle is carved therein. They have gotten so caught up in the battle over the misuse of the Establishment Clause – the freedom from religion – that they have overlooked the ungodliness intrinsic in the Free Exercise Clause – the freedom of religion….”

    For more, see Chapter 11 “Amendment 1: Government-Sanctioned Polytheism” of free online book “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective.” Click on my name, then our website. Go to our Online Books page, click on the top entry, and scroll down to Chapter 11.

    Then find out how much you really know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the right-hand sidebar and receive a complimentary copy of a book that examines the Constitution by the Bible.

  • peanut butter

    Their is an old term for things that have been in use for a long time: ‘Grandfathered in”. I would think that after 73 years this seal deserves that distinction.

  • Andrew Molina

    This is the same county that was a drunkard to the Oshamo funding guarantee if they allowed the illegals to reside their in droves. The mayor is being prosecuted on many embezzlement and racketeering charges, the illegals roam the streets in gangs of 4 or more, the murder rate has increased 400% and the main commerce product is drugs. It used to be called the All-American City and then was renamed to Little New York wherein, shortly thereafter, it turned into a 3rd world cesspool