Lehigh Valley

Lehigh County hires DC lawyers to save the cross

Federal judge ruled county seal unconstitutional

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Lehigh County Commissioners are building a mighty fortress.

The board on Wednesday hired the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to defend the image of the Christian cross on the county's official seal and flag during an upcoming court appeal. The vote was 7-1. Commissioner Dan Hartzell voted "no."

During the commissioners' Oct. 11 meeting, they voted 6-3 to appeal U.S. District Judge Edward Smith's decision that favored the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which wants the depiction removed.

Smith's ruling was a victory for the atheists, but he added his personal conviction that the image of the cross itself did not actually violate the United States Constitution. Regardless, Smith ruled in the plaintiff's favor because of a previous court decision. 

In retaining Becket, the county has acquired a fierce and respected Washington D.C.-based advocate in the defense of religious liberties. The case has gained national interest because of its faith versus faithless storyline.

But the county has maintained from the start the symbol is an historic one, established in 1944 to document the fact Lehigh County was first settled many years ago by "God-fearing Christians."

In its original case, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said the mere presence of the symbol conveyed that only Christian county residents would be represented or welcomed to petition or participate in the government.

During the vote earlier this month, Commissioners Geoff Brace and David Jones supplied two of the three dissenting votes. They noted then the appeal would not likely triumph and, therefore, be a waste of money. On Wednesday, however, both men voted in favor of retaining Becket.

The legal showdown will be held in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Board Chairman Marty Nothstein was absent from Wednesday night's meeting.

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