Seal's Cross Depicts History, Judge Says

Bobby Ross Jr. Published: May 26, 1994
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Edmond claimed victory Wednesday in a two-year fight over a Christian cross on its city seal, as a federal judge ruled the symbol neither advances nor inhibits religion.

U.S. District Judge David L. Russell declared the seal, adopted in 1965, depicts Edmond's history and heritage.

He ruled the seal does not promote Christianity as an official religion, as argued by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The judge's decision, ending a 1 1/2 -day trial in Oklahoma City federal court, drew praise from city attorneys and an immediate promise of appeal from two of five plaintiffs who sought removal of the cross.

"I've got to put myself in the position of an average observer of the logo and determine the impact," Russell said. He said the cross obviously conveys a Christian implication but added, "You cannot look at this seal from just one quadrant. " Other images on the seal include Old North Tower, a landmark on the University of Central Oklahoma campus; a covered wagon linked to the Land Run of 1889; and an oil derrick and passenger train representative of commerce.

The judge voiced satisfaction that "an average observer" would understand the seal's historical message.

He also noted that Edmond Mayor Randel Shadid, Max Speegle, former Edmond City Manager, and even plaintiffs testified they lived in Edmond for years before realizing the city seal featured a cross.

"The seal had been in place almost 25 years before anyone seemed to notice the cross was there," Russell said, linking the sudden awareness to an ACLU effort to have the cross removed. "That's significant when considering the perception of the average observer. " Russell said he relied on a three-part test devised in 1971 for judging church-state questions. That test, from a U.S. Supreme Court case called Lemon vs. Kurtzman, says courts must examine whether a law or activity has a secular purpose; if its primary effect is one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and if it does not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

The ACLU, which sued the city 16 months ago on behalf of a Jewish resident and four members of the Unitarian-Universalist church, contended the seal's cross violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The clause prohibits government from establishing a religion.

Attorney Burns Hargis, who represented the city, hailed the ruling as an acknowledgment "there's no rules in this country that you have to completely separate religion from state. " "The state action simply cannot advance religion," Hargis said.

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