City leaders in Steubenville, Ohio have decided to change their official logo after the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue because the emblem included a silhouette of a cross atop the Franciscan University chapel.
Law Director Gary Repella announced the city’s decision after a closed door meeting – deciding to change the logo because they could not afford a potential lawsuit. The city reverted to a previous logo that did not include the offending items.
“I researched current case law and found a lot of case laws that do not allow religious symbols in government symbols,” Repella said in comments reported by the Herald-Star.
But officials at Franciscan University of Steubenville told Fox News the chapel and cross were included in the logo because the school is one of the top employers in the area and one of the most recognized entities in the city.
“We were included in the city’s logo not because of our faith, but rather our role in the community,” said Michael Hernon, the university’s vice president of advancement. “This out of town and out of touch group decided that they wanted to purge all reference to religion from the public life.”
The group is called the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based organization of so-called “free-thinkers” including agnostics and atheists.
They notified city officials of their objections to the logo on behalf of a citizen who was allegedly offended by the inclusion of the cross and chapel.
“We’re pleased with the expeditious response,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “It’s so clear why a city cannot and should not send a message that it has a Christian orientation, thereby making Christian residents favored insiders, and non-Christians, including nonbelievers, outsiders.”
Gaylor said government cannot pick sides on religion.
“All citizens, whether Christian, Jewish, atheist or agnostic, Muslim, etc. – must be welcomed as full participants, and the only way to do that is to keep religion out of government.”
But Hernon said Freedom From Religion Foundation is nothing more than an out of town bully.
“This is a really troubling affair – that in a small place like Steubenville they can come in and try to bully and remove anything that would be close to referencing god,” Hernon told Fox News. “This is awful.”
Hernon said he doesn’t understand why a Wisconsin group would be concerned about what happens in an Ohio city.
“This is an amazing attempt by a small group of people to try to eradicate God and any reference to religion from our country,” he said.
And the Freedom From Religion Foundation may have picked on the wrong city – and the wrong Catholic university.
“We’re passionately Catholic,” Hernon said. “We’re not about to hide our crosses or be ashamed of our faith-based identity. This is something that we need to speak up about and say enough is enough.”
Hernon said it’s time for people of faith to draw a line in the sand.
But an attorney with the organization said the inclusion of the crosses is unconstitutional.
“Any claims of historical or cultural significance to the Latin cross on the Steubenville City logo do not relieve the City of its constitutional obligations,” FFRF staff attorney Patrick Elliott wrote in a letter to Mayor Domenick Mucci. “While we understand that Franciscan University is a part of the City, the City may not depict the University chapel and cross because to do so places the City’s imprimatur behind Christianity.”