High Court Rejects Edmond Cross Plaintiff Celebrates; Mayor Displeased

Oklahoman Published: May 14, 1996
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BIOG: NAME: UPD: 19 -TEXT-

While a former Edmond minister celebrated victory Monday, city officials voiced disappointment at the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to allow a Christian cross on the city seal.

"It appears tragic that at the stroke of a pen, we can be required to remove all of our history and heritage," said Edmond Mayor Bob Rudkin. "The same is true of the other symbols. The railroad and wagon are not an endorsement of our methods of transportation."

City officials have maintained the cross is a symbol of the city's heritage, not the endorsement of Christianity.

In use since 1965, Edmond's official seal is a circular design divided into four parts containing a cross, covered wagon, train and oil well, and the Old North Tower of the University of Central Oklahoma.

Other council members also voiced chagrin but said the denial of a hearing was expected.

"It's disappointing that the actions of a small minority can control the majority," Councilman Barry Rice said.

The seal was first challenged in 1992 by five Edmond residents - the Rev. Wayne Robinson, Curtis Battles, Wendell Miller and Barbara Orza, who are Unitarians, along with Martin Feldman, who is Jewish.

Robinson has since left Edmond to lead the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis.

"This is a tremendous victory for those concerned with religious liberties and religious freedoms," he said Monday. "The city of Edmond does not have the right to promote the Christian religion (through the) decoration of police cars and garbage trucks."

The seal appears on a multitude of city items, from letterhead and utility bills to automobiles and city workers' uniforms. The cost to change the seal could exceed $30,000, Edmond City Manager Leonard Martin said.

"The council will have to decide what to do, whether it's designing a new seal or just removing the cross and leaving a blank space there," he said. He estimated the transition wouldn't take more than three months.

Councilman Gary Moore said he will recommend leaving the space blank. "The people here now will see it blank and it will remind them of what was there."

The council likely will address the issue during its next meeting.

The city's lead attorney, Burns Hargis, said the 10th Circuit Court must still decide when the cross must be removed and if the city is responsible for the plaintiffs' legal fees, which could exceed $100,000. The city already has spent nearly $88,000 on the case.

Feldman, a plaintiff in the case, said Monday he thought the Supreme Court ruling was a good one.

"The city of Edmond consists of people of all faiths, not just one, and everyone pays the same amount of taxes."

Although city officials said the cross in the seal was a matter of heritage rather than religion, several church leaders contacted by The Oklahoman Monday had varied reactions.

Herman Burrough, an elder at Edmond Church of Christ, said members of the church had distributed bumper stickers supporting the cross in the city's seal.

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