Pennsylvania county ordered to remove Christian cross from seal

A federal judge recently ruled that Lehigh County in Pennsylvania should remove the cross from its official seal as it violates the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause on the separation of church and state.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Smallbones)Old Lehigh County Courthouse on the NRHP since September 11, 1981. At 5th and Hamilton Streets, Allentown, Pennsylvania. 18 October 2011.

In 2014 and 2015, Wisconsin-based atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened legal action against Lehigh County if it did not take out the cross from its logo, with four local residents joining in and testifying that the seal was offensive because of the Christian emblem. Last year, the foundation finally filed the lawsuit after commissioners defended the historical significance of the cross, The Morning Call detailed.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, federal judge Edward Smith ruled in favor of FFRF but said the cross was a passive symbol and that it did not force any individual to practice the Christian faith. Nonetheless, even though the court "may not fully agree with the test provided," he ruled that the cross violated the Establishment Clause.

However, Judge Smith asked FFRF's lawyers for an injunction to bar the future use of the seal instead of ordering its immediate removal. The foundation is required to submit the proposal in two weeks.

In a separate situation in Oklahoma, a chapel inside the campus of East Central University became the center of controversy after Americans United for Separation of Church and State requested it to remove Bibles and other Christian symbolism from the vicinity. The group had also insisted for the cross on top of the church to be taken down, The Philadelphia Tribune reported.

As of now, the university is allowing Attorney General Mike Hunter to handle the issue while waiting for the next move of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Washington-based group said the Latin cross on public property went against the Establishment Clause. However, many of the university students want the chapel to remain untouched.