The secular zealots who originally challenged Lehigh County’s official seal in 2015 will not be happy until all symbols of Christianity are removed from public view.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin, which supported four Lehigh Valley members’ efforts to have the Latin cross in the center of the county seal removed, must be smiling smugly after a federal judge’s decision Sept. 28.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Smith upheld the group’s viewpoint — well, sort of — that the Latin cross should not be part of the county government’s official seal.
While Smith stated “the court does not believe” the seal violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “the law, as it currently stands,” requires the court rule in favor of the plaintiffs “because the cross lacked a secular purpose both when the county adopted the seal and when the county refused to remove the cross from the seal...”
In his discussion, Smith states, “By including a Latin cross on the seal, the county has chosen to celebrate the Christian values important throughout its history.”
Note he said celebrate Christian values not “establish” a countywide Christian religion.
“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.
Smith states, in fact, Lehigh County does not force its residents to be Christians: “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 (adopted on Dec. 28, 1944).”
And, throwing in a little humor to his decision, Smith states, “And if it had intended to do so, it has certainly failed — one of the plaintiffs himself testified that, per the 2010 census, 49 percent of the county reported no religious affiliation at all...”
Well, well, the judge admits Lehigh County did not try to establish a religion by having a cross on the seal, but that wasn’t enough for him to rule in the county’s favor. He just had to look at “binding precedent.”
Lehigh County Commissioner Brad Osborne emailed to The Press the following statement Oct. 2:
“I understand Judge Smith had to rule within the precedent set before him in similar cases, but I am disappointed in the outcome,” Osborne wrote. “Our board will meet soon to hear from counsel and consider our options.”
Smith speaks of the Supreme Court decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman when the court created the “Lemon test.”
Oh, my, my, what an appropriate name for these fruity lawsuits brought by a bunch of sourpusses.
The Lemon test states a challenged government action violates the Establishment Clause if it lacks a secular purpose; its primary effect is to either advance or inhibit religion; or it fosters an excessive entanglement of government with religion.
So, we go from a government trying to establish a compulsory religion as stated in the First Amendment to celebrating Christian values to lacking a secular purpose.
In his conclusion, Smith acknowledges the county seal “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.
“Higher courts, however, have delineated a different mechanism” — the infamous Lemon test — “by which the court must determine whether the seal survives constitutional scrutiny.
“While the court” — read as Judge Edward Smith — “may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test.”
No, the court did not have to!
Here’s an idea, Judge Smith — break precedent and proudly state what you were hinting about throughout the court’s (your) decision.
The Latin cross — used by pagans in China, Africa and Scandinavia for centuries before the beginning of Christianity — in the Lehigh County seal isn’t forcing anyone to follow Christian beliefs, and it certainly isn’t establishing an official religion for the residents of Lehigh County.