Church-State Watchdog Group Sends Complaint to Fla. City Over Seal With Religious Imagery

A Florida chapter of a national church-and-state watchdog group has sent a letter of complaint to a sunshine state city over its seal that includes Christian imagery.

The Flagler County chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent the letter to the mayor of the city of DeLand last month regarding the matter.

The letter was signed by Ayesha N. Khan, legal director at Americans United and Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United.

"We have received a complaint that the City of DeLand's official seal contains Christian symbols. The seal features three emblems: a Latin cross, an anchor, and a heart. Together, these three images are widely understood to symbolize the Christian 'theological virtues' discussed by Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13:13," reads the letter in part.

"By incorporating Christian icons in its official seal, the City violates a cardinal rule of the Establishment Clause: governmental entities may not take action that 'has the purpose or effect of 'endorsing' religion.'"

Darren Elkind, city attorney for DeLand, told The Christian Post about the history of the seal, which dates back to the founding of the city in 1882.

"The seal was adopted as a testament to the city's founding father, Henry DeLand, whose vision was to establish this city as a place of education and culture, and where he, as well as others, would charitably help others to help themselves," said Elkind.

"The city was named after Henry DeLand and the symbol of 'faith, hope and charity' was adopted because those words symbolized the vision of Henry DeLand's for this community."

Elkind also told CP that "it was simply fortuitous that the symbol happened to be a Christian one" and he will be officially responding to Americans United's letter sometime next week.

"Nothing in the history, that I have found, indicates that the seal was adopted for any sectarian purpose," said Elkind.

"I will be sending them a response next week which explains the history in a little more detail, and explains the law and why the seal will not be removed."

Ian Smith, staff attorney with Americans United, told The Christian Post that other seals have been found unconstitutional when their sacred imagery held no secular reason for being present.

"The cases that uphold seals with religious iconography have done so not on the basis of how old the seal is, but on whether there is a secular reason for the iconography to be present," said Smith.

"DeLand's seal has no such secular reason (its founders appear to have been devoutly religious, and chose the seal on that basis), which is why the City is advancing the 'historical' argument."

Smith also noted several cases where city seals were declared unconstitutional regardless of how long a given locale had had the emblem.