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.
The Rev. Wayne Robinson, one of the plaintiffs and minister of Edmond's Channing Unitarian-Universalist Church, promised an almost certain appeal. Martin Feldman, who is Jewish, also challenged the city seal.
Robinson said Russell's decision ignored precedent.
In June 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear separate appeals involving religious symbols on two Illinois city seals. The refusals upheld a lower court's ruling, which forced the removal of religious symbols from the municipal seals.
"I think this whole smoke screen of history denied the reality that thousands of people moving into Edmond have no awareness of history," Robinson said. "They see the cross as a distinctive component of the seal, which says that Edmond is Christian and most receptive to Christians. " ACLU attorney Micheal Salem argued city leaders showed a callousness toward non-Christians such as Robinson by not allowing a City Council public hearing when the cross was questioned. But Mayor Shadid testified he did not realize Robinson was non-Christian at the time.
In his ruling, Russell said the Constitution does not expect government to act like religion does not exist. The judge said he will prepare a written order, and ACLU attorney Salem declined comment until seeing it.
The Edmond seal has an obvious secular purpose in identifying city property and personnel, Russell said. He said the trial revealed no evidence of city entanglement with Christian churches, despite plaintiff testimony regarding T-shirt sales that benefited a church.
Longtime resident Robert Bryan, brother-in-law of Frances Bryan, who designed the seal in 1965, sold more than 100 T-shirts featuring the seal and "I Live In Edmond, I Like The Seal" after the controversy arose. He said he donated $1 per shirt to his church's missionary fund.
City leaders testified they did not seek action against Robert Bryan but did register the seal as a trademark and prevent others from reproducing it. Frances Bryan and O. Jerry Priest, an Edmond councilman from 1963 to 1975, both testified the cross on the seal was designed to celebrate the importance of churches at Edmond's beginning. Within two months of the Land Run, four churches and a Sunday school had become an intregal part of Edmond, Priest testified.
"There wasn't a synagogue in Edmond then and there still isn't today," Priest said. "If there had been, we would have been willing to put it on the seal. " BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 576417