DENVER - Edmond's city seal violates the U.S. Constitution because it contains a Christian cross, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
"The city will have to remove the cross," said attorney Micheal C. Salem of Norman, who represented a Jewish resident and four Unitarian-Universalist church members who argued the seal established an official religion.
Senior Judge William J. Holloway Jr. of Oklahoma City was among the three 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judges who unanimously decided the case. The other judges were from Utah and Colorado.
"The cross is a prominent feature of the Edmond seal," the judges wrote in a 15-page decision. "The religious significance and meaning of the Latin or Christian cross are unmistakable. " Edmond Mayor Bob Rudkin said it was "preposterous" to believe the cross established a government religion.
"It seems like we're approaching the ridiculous," Rudkin said Tuesday night. "And I wonder what it will be next. ... It just seems like there's a concerted effort to remove all semblance of religion from public life. " Burns Hargis, Edmond's lead attorney, said he hadn't heard about the ruling and could not comment.
But he said, "I think whatever the 10th Circuit does, the loser is going to take it to the Supreme Court. " Salem pointed out that Tuesday's ruling is consistent with other appeals that the Supreme Court has refused to hear.
The ruling angered some Edmond residents who had praised a May 1994 decision by U.S. District Judge David L. Russell of Oklahoma City. Russell ruled that the cross was a depiction of Edmond's heritage, and it neither advanced nor inhibited religion.
"It's a sad day for not only Edmond but people as a whole that have any Christian or religious ties," said resident Leonard Stevenson, who designed a bumper sticker supporting the seal.
The lead plaintiff, the Rev. Wayne Robinson, said the judges came to the only right conclusion.
"You just can't have a city promoting one religion over another," Robinson said. He is a minister at Edmond's Channing Unitarian-Universalist Church.
"And despite the attempt to say it was a historical symbol, the truth is very clear. The cross was a quintessential Christian symbol. " The American Civil Liberties Union appealed Russell's ruling, and Tuesday's ruling reversed his decision.
Legal proceedings began with an ACLU warning to Edmond officials in January 1992. The lawsuit was filed in January 1993.
Robinson said the 10th Circuit's decision affirmed his faith in the justice system .
"Judge Russell didn't deliberate even a minute," Robinson said.
"This time, I think the members of the appellate court have had such a wide variety of those cases that they see it with a bigger picture. " The appeals court judges pointed out that the Supreme Court has ruled in other cases that a government must not endorse a particular religion.
They said the main issue was whether the seal violated the Constitution by advancing religion, or conveying "the message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred. " They concluded the seal violates the First Amendment, which restricts establishment of religion by government.
The court noted that Tuesday's ruling was similar to rulings it and other courts have made in cases in Bernalillo County, N.M., St. George, Utah, and other cities.
Judge Stephen H. Anderson foreshadowed the ruling during oral arguments last month in Tulsa, noting the court had deemed the New Mexico cross "a blatant advancement of religion. " "This is a victory for religious neutrality," Salem said.
"We're only asking the city of Edmond to maintain neutrality ," he said.
Edmond City Attorney Steve Murdock, City Manager Leonard Martin and Councilman Gary Moore all reserved comment .
Councilman Steve Knox joked that the cross could be replaced " with a 'T' or two pieces of crossed wood. " Knox said he was surprised the city prevailed in the original suit, so he was "not too surprised that we've been turned down. " Former Mayor Randel Shadid said the city made a strong defense of the seal.
"I think it's a good case to have resolved before the Supreme Court," Shadid said.
Knox said the council would ask for public comment before deciding whether to appeal.
Don Vinzant, an associate minister of the Edmond Church of Christ and an associate professor of Bible at Oklahoma Christian University of Science and Arts, called the ruling absurd.
"I think it almost smacks of revisionist history in trying to be politically correct," Vinzant said. "The court maybe has bowed to ACLU pressure, which in the long term may be seen to be ludicrous. " Edmond has used the seal on city vehicles, utility bills, city workers' uniforms and other places since 1965.
The city had argued the seal is permissible because: It symbolizes Edmond's "history and heritage. " "The majority of people in Edmond ... do not view the seal as endorsing religion. " "Secular aspects of the seal neutralize any religious message conveyed by the cross. " BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 626839