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AHLC Demands Cross be Removed from Government Insignia in Federal Court

(Washington, D.C., May 2, 2018)—Today the American Humanist Association (AHA), together with the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in support of a lower court ruling that declared that the Christian cross prominently displayed on the Lehigh County seal violates the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by and four residents and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The Lehigh Seal is displayed on documents, letterhead, official county forms and documents, the county’s website, displayed in the Board of Commissioners meeting room, and even on flags at the entrance of county buildings.

Last September, the judge ruled that the Christian cross, which both parties agreed is “the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity,” dwarfs other symbols on the seal and therefore shows unconstitutional county endorsement of a particular religion. The county appealed to the Third Circuit.

“We expect the Third Circuit to uphold the lower court’s ruling that the cross within the Lehigh Seal represents an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “A government symbol that features a Christian cross sends a strong message that Christian citizens are preferred, and a stigmatizing message to all others that they are second-class citizens. This lawsuit is about ensuring that the government refrains from such religious favoritism.”

This AHA’s legal center has succeeded in challenging similar religious displays including: a monument depicting crosses in Lake Elsinore, CA; Christian scripture engraved on a school monument in Danielsville, GA; a massive Christian cross on government property in Bladensburg, MD; a memorial that featured a Christian cross in Roselle Park, NJ; a stand-alone nativity scene on the lawn of a courthouse in Baxter County, AR ; crosses in elementary school classrooms in Quanah, TX; and a 30-foot Christian cross in a public park in Pensacola, FL.

“Government memorials, classrooms, and any public displays should respect all citizens, not just those from one religious group,” said Roy Speckhardt, AHA executive director. “Religious neutrality is gravely important in a pluralistic society like ours.”

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