The FFRF’s Vacuous Case Against Lehigh County’s Seal

The militant atheist activist group, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a federal lawsuit against Lehigh County (in Pennsylvania) because of the county’s seal.  Here is what the seal looks like:

lehigh-county-seal-116fd87113f0b0b8

The cross in the center has outraged the atheist activists.  Hemant Mehta, the atheist activist who encourages journalists to write negative stories about religious people, is of course cheerleading for his fellow activists. In doing so, he quotes an excerpt from the lawsuit:

By adopting and displaying a seal and flag with a Latin cross, the county is violating the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose is religious, not secular, and “has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion,” the plaintiffs contend.

FFRF and its co-plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the religious symbols on the county seal and flag are unconstitutional, a permanent injunction against displaying them, nominal damages, costs and attorney fees.

“Lehigh County is not a Christian county, it should be equally welcoming to all its citizens regardless of their religion or their reject of religion. A redesign to comply with the Constitution is imperative,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

(his emphasis)

While I am not a lawyer, I have a good handle on critical thinking.  So let’s take a closer look at these allegations.

By adopting and displaying a seal and flag with a Latin cross, the county is violating the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The purpose is religious, not secular,

This is simply a matter of opinion.  After all, what is the religious significance of the factory that is part of the seal?  And what about the bull and the farm?  What religious significance are they supposed to have?  It looks to me that whoever designed the seal, they were trying to showcase the various aspects of their community.  The cross could represent the county’s churches, which have probably played crucial roles in the service of the community.  If the purpose of the seal was religious, it doesn’t make much sense to include factories and farms on it.

 “has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion,” the plaintiffs contend.

Here is where the FFRF’s case is ridiculously weak.  According to them, the seal has “the primary effect” of “advancing religion.”  Yet where is the evidence to support this claim?  Lehigh County has a population of 355,092 people.  Has the FFRF determined what percent of the population has become religious as a result of the seal?  Have they supplied the evidence showing us how the seal caused these supposed religious conversions?  Or does the FFRF believe the seal has the magical power  to hypnotize people and compel them to attend church?

Not only does the FFRF have no evidence to support their truth claim, the evidence contradicts their assertions.

 

According to these data, the percentage of people in Lehigh County who are not religiously affiliated has increased from 37.5% to 48.2% from 2000 to 2010.  In what bizzaro world does one believe that some bureaucratic seal is having the effect of “advancing religion” when the percentage of non-religious people has increased by 10%?So not only does the FFRF lack empirical evidence for it’s odd claim, the empirical evidence contradicts them.

But what about the other purported “primary effect,” that of  “expressing defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion?”

If the seal was something that was just designed by the officials in Lehigh County  last year, we could take this more seriously.  But it was designed in 1944.  How does the FFRF know that the intention of the seal was to express preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion?  Was that a hot issue in Lehigh back in 1944?  How do they know the cross is not simply a hat tip to the valuable role the churches played in their community back in 1944?  After all, if that was the intention (or something similar), the FFRF’s attempt to strip away the cross can be viewed as an aggressive attack on Christianity – an effort to cleanse history of the contributions churches have made to the community.

In summary, the FFRF has no evidence the seal is advancing religion and, in fact, the evidence contradicts that any such effect exists.  What’s more, the FFRF has no evidence the seal, designed in 1944, was and is meant as some expression of preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion.

One final excerpt:

“Lehigh County is not a Christian county, it should be equally welcoming to all its citizens regardless of their religion or their reject of religion. A redesign to comply with the Constitution is imperative,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

More unsupported accusations. Is there any evidence that Lehigh County is not welcoming of citizens regardless of their religion or their reject of religion?  Or are we back to assuming the seal has magical powers that deter non-Christians from entering?

Once again, the data don’t support the FFRF fanciful claims:

The Lehigh Valley has been one of the fastest growing regions of Pennsylvania over the last five years, but it wouldn’t be so without immigrants.

Looks to me like Lehigh County is a very welcoming place.  In fact:

 The area also has welcomed Spanish-speaking immigrants from Central and South America and the Caribbean. The fastest growing groups include Mexicans, Dominicans, and more recently, waves of Venezuelans, said Erika M. Sutherland, a Muhlenberg College Spanish professor and director of Grupo de Apoyo e Integracion Hispanoamericano, an immigrant support group in the Lehigh Valley.

“The importance of this diversity cannot be overstated: Hispanics here do not fit into any easy category,” she said. “They vary in every possible way, with significant differences in ethnic and racial identity, socioeconomic background, education, religion, political leanings, and immigration status.”

If  FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor is going to malign and demonize the people of Lehigh County by implying they are bigots who do not welcome non-Christians into their county, it would help if she had actual evidence to support her accusations.

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11 Responses to The FFRF’s Vacuous Case Against Lehigh County’s Seal

  1. Bob in Maryland says:

    Boy, I sure hope these activists never take a look at the Maryland state flag, which has not one, but two, crosses on it. (And by the way, we Marlylanders fiercely love our flag. You see it absolutely everywhere, to a degree I’ve never seen in any other state in the Union.)

    Or (gasp) what will happen when they realize that Maryland is named after the Blessed Virgin Mary? That ought to send them into crazyland.

  2. stcordova says:

    “Or (gasp) what will happen when they realize that Maryland is named after the Blessed Virgin Mary? That ought to send them into crazyland.”

    My home town growing up was Falls Church, named after a church called “Falls Church”.

  3. Mike says:

    Grew up in the LV thought I was Catholic because of my Irish Immigrant parents. Learn something new everyday, it was an oppressive county seal that made me this way.

  4. SteveK says:

    Has this group proven it’s a religious cross rather than something else? Looks generic to me.

  5. Crude says:

    Has this group proven it’s a religious cross rather than something else? Looks generic to me.

    Lehigh County – We Love Math!

    The point of these lawsuits, I think, isn’t to win. It’s to give sympathetic or weak-willed forces in the state an excuse to change things, citing the lawsuit.

  6. SteveK says:

    I was thinking that, but it also looks like the symbol for health or Switzerland.

    Lehigh County – A healthy place to live
    Lehigh County – Built on the backs of Swiss immigrants

  7. Bob in Maryland says:

    And of course we can’t have our cities named such things as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Fransisco, Saint Paul, Saint Louis, Salem, Shiloh, Rehoboth, Carmel, Moab, Zion, Bethany, Saint George, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, San Angelo, Bethlehem … and for Darwin’s (or is it Dawkins’) sake, not Corpus Christi!!!

  8. FZM says:

    The purpose is religious, not secular, and “has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion,” the plaintiffs contend.

    If they win the case and have the seal changed to something non-religious won’t it look like a case of favouring non-religion over all other religions?

  9. Lehigh County – We Love Math!

    Okay, this made me laugh out loud.

  10. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne’s blog post dated 08 October 2016 and entitled, “Interim report: FFRF convention”, seems to report that the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention attendees are far from free from religion: halfway through the day-and-a-bit, it is evident they are obsessed with it.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/interim-report-ffrf-convention/

  11. TFBW says:

    Indeed, Dhay, those guys sure know how to eliminate religion — and replace it with another religion. Consider this snippet.

    He then did a duet with Dan sitting at the piano, riffing on an old Christian song, but changing the words so that it was Jesus, not science, that was built on “sinking sand” and that science, not Jesus, was a “rock.”

    Funny thing is, if anyone tries to suggest that science (scientism, really) is their religion, the denial is instantaneous and forceful. But, in the safe and secure company of like-minded individuals, it’s a different story.

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