Lehigh Valley

Injunction: Lehigh County Seal violates First Amendment

The seal could be vanished within 180 days

LEHIGH COUNTY, Pa. - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an injunction Wednesday that says the Lehigh County Seal adopted by the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners in 1944, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, however, has said it plans to appeal.

Per the injunction, Lehigh County and its employees, officers and agents are required to refrain from 'any and all use, display or implementation of the Lehigh County Seal.'

Any county service, program, document, facility, building, equipment and activity that is also in connection with the seal must be refrained from use, effective 180 days from the Nov. 1 judgment.

Previous documents featuring the Lehigh County Seal may be maintained without violating this judgment. 

The court is awarding nominal damages to each plaintiff in the amount of $1. 

The lawsuit against Lehigh County was filed in 2016 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that is based on the principal of separation of church and state.

Members of the foundation said the Latin cross, pictured on the Lehigh County flag and seal, is an endorsement of Christianity and therefore a violation of the First Amendment.

"To some people, it seems like a moot point, but it's right there in the constitution," said Candace Winkler, one of four people and an organization behind the lawsuit.

In September, Federal Judge Edward Smith ruled that the image of a large Christian cross on the flag and seal of Lehigh County is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Smith wrote that while he doesn't believe the symbols violate the Constitution, he was bound by precedent to side with the Wisconsin-based group. He gave the Freedom From Religion Foundation two weeks to come up with an injunction.

Lehigh County Commissioners then voted in mid-October to appeal the judge's ruling. The case was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

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