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bullet"Americans are being denied the right to express their religious speech in the public square." Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition.
bullet"There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights. malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed." - Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, 1890-MAR-18.

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The debate:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) observes that "Cities often choose symbols on their seals to convey their local identity: palm trees, a well-known bridge, or some other identifier of civic pride." 1 A conflict with the principle of separation of church and state occurs when a city chooses a religious symbol to identify itself with Christianity or some other faith.

The ACLU writes that: "Occupying the lower right quadrant of the official seal of the City of Redlands was a levitating Latin cross shown glimmering above a picturesque church. The seal appears on city stationery, on fire fighters' patches, on police badges, on the door of the local library, and elsewhere." 1

Actually, this is the city's logo, not seal. It was created in 1963, and was also used on on government buildings and business cards.

Some residents of Redlands complained that they did not want their city to give a single religion their "seal of approval." Staff attorney Ben Wizner of ACLU of Southern California wrote a letter to the city officials in mid-2004-MAR requesting that they remove the symbol. Wizner said: "The law couldn't be any clearer on this. Whether it's an Islamic crescent, a star of David, or a crucifix makes no difference. The government cannot endorse religion. By putting a Latin cross on its official seal, Redlands was effectively telling people of other faiths, and people of no faith, that they were second class citizens." 1 The city council quickly complied.

Students and faculty from the Arrowhead Christian Academy organized a rally in protest. According to the ACLU, Mayor Susan Peppler "...empathized with the protestors but told them that taking up a legal battle 'would be like taking taxpayer money and flushing it down the drain'." 1 The Alliance Defense Fund, a fundamentalist Christian legal defense group, originally offered to defend the city if they tried to retain the religious symbol. However, they withdrew their offer after they read the ACLU letter.

According to the minutes of a City Council meeting for 2005-MAY-04:

 "...the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian organization that finances litigation to defend issues of 'religious liberty rights' and the protection of family values, did its own legal research and decided the City does not have a defensible case with the regard to the City logo with the cross." 2

The Committee to Save Redland's Seal attended the MAY-04 City Council meeting. They presented a a statement of their position, along with a letter signed by 11 local pastors, and a supporting petition containing 285 signatures.

At the 2005-JUN-01, City Council meeting, Reverend John Walsh, represented the People for Inclusivity, spoke. The group opposes a Christian symbol on the logo. He also presented a supporting letter with 65 signatures. Fox News carried the controversy on their national news on the following day. 3 According to the minutes of the City Council. the People for Inclusivity:

"....believe that the community is made better and stronger by acknowledging that Redlands is a spiritually broad and diverse community, and that it is the role of civic government, and the symbols that it employs, to represent all citizens, whether these citizens have religious affiliations or not. They further believe that it is the expressed role of faith communities and their clergy, not governments, to display religious symbols and share religious message. They encourage the City Council to hear their voice and the many diverse voices within the community. Reverend Dr. Sharon Graff [of the Redlands United Church of Christ] informed Councilmembers [sic] they are not alone with their decision to remove the cross from the City seal. 4

The city has reverted to its pre-1963 logo, shown here.

A Committee to Save the Seal was organized. They claim that: "Many in the Redlands community feel that the removal of the Christian cross from the logo of the City of Redlands is an attempt, by the ACLU, to erase the impact of Judeo/Christian values on the history of our nation, and more specifically on the history/heritage of Redlands. Redlands has been known as 'The City of Churches' because we are uniquely Christian in our heritage. The design of this city logo was a reflection of this reality. The Committee to Save the Seal is taking a stand against the ACLU's misinterpretation of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Committee believes that cities have a constitutional right to reflect their heritage, and that this right was secured by our Founding Fathers." 5 They encourage people to donate money to fight the ACLU in court.

We are not certain why the group in favor of retaining the cross symbol have called themselves the "Committee to Save Redlands' Seal" rather than "Committee to Save Redlands' Logo." We are guessing that the term "seal" carries much more importance than "logo." The Committee writes that:

"The Redlands city logo controversy primarily revolves around the fact that Redlands has a uniquely Christian heritage, as evidenced by our distinction as the 'City of Churches.' The cross and church in the 4th quadrant of the city logo do not mean that the Redlands City Council is requiring its citizenry to believe in God, or that Redlands is officially a Christian city. Rather, as with any other city logo across the country, Redlands' logo reflects the city’s heritage." 6

The Committee suggests that the concept of separation of church and state was an invention of "today's judicially activist courts." 7 The term "Activist court" is commonly used by religious and social conservatives to refer to judges who interpret constitutions and legislation as living document -- whose meanings evolve over time -- rather than enduring documents -- whose meanings are unchanged from the time of their creation. More details.

Rev. Dr. Sharon R Graff, Pastor and Teacher of the Redlands United Church of Christ wrote:

"The cross is a beloved Christian symbol, tracing directly from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The cross on a civic emblem--be it an informal logo or a formal and legal city seal--is in direct opposition to 1) the US Constitution's basic premise of the separation of church and state, and 2) the ministry of Jesus as a new king of a new kingdom 'not of Caesar, but of God.' Commingling cross and city seal is a bad idea--financially, historically, legally, communally, and certainly theologically and biblically." 8

The Redlands Values Coalition, a group who oppose Measure Q, cites three reasons for their stand: It is unconstitutional. It would cause the city to be sued -- a case that the city would certainly lose at a lost of hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and it is intolerant. They suggest that:

"Redlands is home to people of diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs. Placing a particular religious symbol on our seal will offend and exclude many of our friends and neighbors." 8

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City of Redlands plebiscite:

Measure Q was added to the 2005-NOV-08 ballot. If passed, it would have authorized the use of a Christian religious symbol by the city. It was soundly defeated by a 59.1/40.4 ratio.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "ACLU Defends Church/State Line In Redlands," ACLU of Southern California, at: http://www.aclu-sc.org/
  2. "Minutes of a regular meeting of the City Council of the City of Redlands..." 2005-MAY-04, at: http://www.ci.redlands.ca.us/ **
  3. "Religious Symbol Erased in California," Fox News, 2005-MAY-05, at: http://www.foxnews.com/ This link includes a link to a video clip.
  4. "Minutes of a regular meeting of the City Council of the City of Redlands..." 2005-JUN-01, at: http://www.ci.redlands.ca.us/ **
  5. Citation no longer available.
  6. "Save Redlands' Seal," Committee to save Redlands' Seal, at: http://www.saveredlandsseal.org/
  7. "Eight Crucial Points," Committee to save Redlands' Seal, at: http://www.saveredlandsseal.org/
  8. "Redlands Values Coalition - Committee against measure Q," at: http://www.redlandsvalues.org/
  9. "Final Semi-Official Election Day Results," San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, 2005-NOV-09, at: http://www.co.san-bernardino.ca.us/

** These are PDF files. You may require software to read them. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Copyright © 2004 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-NOV-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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