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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.
"I think as a body, our opinion would be that the cross is a part of the history of Edmond. It's a part of our heritage. And as such, it should be on there," Burrough said.
"We don't mix church and state, but we are supportive. We think this nation was built with God as a part of it. And we think it is just as wrong to try to take it out because of the desires of some people."
But officials of an area Jewish organization and an interfaith alliance supported the decision, although their groups were not directly involved in the case.
"That (separation of church and state) protects all of us," said Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City. "Our Founding Fathers figured that out a long time ago."
Harley Venters, a north Oklahoma City resident and head of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, said not allowing a cross in a city seal is a matter of consideration of others' views.
"In other words, we know that the vast majority are Christians, but we think consideration of those who are not .... requires that the majority not offend unnecessarily those who are of a different persuasion," Venters said.
The Rev. Jim Hylton, pastor of MetroChurch of Edmond, urged people to pray for "our leaders and for the Supreme Court in the ability to interpret such things in light of the purpose of the Founding Fathers of the nation and the views held by them."
Symbols and writings in the nation's Capitol "suggest a nation that was born out of a Christian culture," he said.
Edmond's court case has been closely watched by other area communities.
The Village and Del City, for example, have religious symbols on their seals. Some believe a shield divider on Oklahoma City's seal also could be interpreted as a cross, although city officials deny it.
City spokeswoman Karen Farney maintains that Oklahoma City's seal does not violate the separation of church and state.
"These are just to divide the shield into quadrants which show symbols of Oklahoma City's heritage. The lines do not form a cross - they are strictly a design element."
The Village seal features a church with a cross on its steeple.
Bruce Stone, The Village city manager, said the council has been following the case to see what the outcome would be. "It will be a matter for the council to sit down and discuss what they want to do," he said.
Del City's seal has a quadrant with an open book with a cross at the top. City Manager Stan Greil said the city attorney and council also will have to discuss how the decision will affect their seal.
"I'm not ashamed to say our community was founded for a number of reasons, including some strong religious ethics," he said. The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = This story was written from reports by staff writers Susan Parrott, Pat Gilliland, Jack Money and Lisa Beckloff.Archive ID: 648390