Republic, Mo., Defends Use of Town Logo as a Proper Nod to Religion
[Article from the Freedom Forum]

                        Jeremy Leaming
                        First Amendment Center

                        07.21.98

                        Attorneys representing Republic, Mo., in a legal battle over
                        the town's use of a Christian symbol in its seal have argued the
                        use is not an endorsement of religion.

                        In legal papers filed last week with the U.S. District Court for
                        the Western District of Missouri, the town answered a lawsuit
                        by maintaining it did not know whether the ichthus a fish
                        symbol used by early Christians who lived under Roman Empire is exclusively a symbol of
                        Christianity.

                        Represented by the National Legal Foundation, a nonprofit religious-liberty group based in
                        Virginia, the town argued that its use of the logo, which was designed by a resident in 1990,
                        does not endorse any religion. Instead the group argues that the symbol merely acknowledges
                        the importance of religion.

                        The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri sued the town earlier this
                        month in federal district court in Missouri claiming the use of the logo violates the separation of
                        church and state.

                        The civil liberties group is representing Jean Webb, a resident, who says the town's residents
                        and government are not tolerant of minority beliefs and religions. Webb alleges that the town
                        has "prominently displayed" the logo on public buildings, facilities, flags, signs and vehicles.
                        Moreover, she claims the logo controversy has forced her to alter her own religious practices to
                        shield herself and her children from harassment and ostracism in the community. Webb is a
                        devotee of wicca, a nature-based, benign witchcraft.

                        "The desire to correct an imbalance, to educate on standing First Amendment rights, to address
                        the harm done to me, and to seek legal intervention preventing further harm to others of minority
                        religious beliefs, was, is, and always will be my intention in becoming involved in this action,"
                        Webb said in statement about the suit. "No one is saying that Christianity is offensive -- just that
                        government should maintain complete neutrality --which protects Christians as well as
                        non-Christians -- from government mandated displays of faith."

                        Republic officials, however, argued in their answer to the ACLU suit that the logo does not
                        violate Webb's or any other resident's religious liberty.

                        Steven Fitschen, National Legal Foundation president, derided the ACLU for bringing the suit.

                        "This is part of a pattern of lawsuits brought by the ACLU to remove every vestige of religion
                        from public life," Fitschen said. "The attitude is that religion is fine in private but not in the public.
                        The problem is, as United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has noted, religion,
                        unlike pornography, cannot be kept strictly private. Rather, religion by its very nature has a
                        public element. The people of Republic surely can acknowledge the role of religion in their
                        community without creating a constitutional crisis."

                        Gay Revi, a local ACLU board member, told free! the fish drawing is a symbol steeped in
                        Christian history and meaning.

                        "The ACLU is surprised to hear that the city of Republic is denying the ichthus' religious
                        meaning," Revi said. "The city's own official publications describe the fish as 'the ancient symbol
                        of religion.' Now, the ACLU finds itself in the somewhat unusual position of defending the
                        integrity of a Christian symbol as city officials try to dumb down the meaning of the ichthus."

                        David Huggins, staff attorney for the National Legal Foundation, disagreed with Revi's position
                        that the ichthus has always been a symbol of Christianity.

                        "The meaning of the symbol is something that still has to be explored," Huggins told free! "The
                        ACLU claims it has always symbolized Christianity. We don't know whether it has exclusively
                        been such a symbol."

                        Huggins also said that even if the symbol is exclusively Christian, the town still has a
                        constitutional right to use it in its logo.

                        "I think there has been an overreaction to the effects of the symbol," he said. "To call the city's
                        use of the seal a violation of the establishment clause is a misreading of our Constitution. This is
                        not at all what Jefferson and Madison had in mind. In fact Jefferson proposed, for a national
                        seal, a depiction of the children of Israel crossing the desert as described in the book of
                        Exodus."