In County Motto, New Jersey Town Boasts of Being a Great Place to Pray March 22, 2016

In County Motto, New Jersey Town Boasts of Being a Great Place to Pray

See if you can spot any problems with the seal and motto for the Borough of Clayton, New Jersey:

ClaytonNJSeal

In addition to suggesting Clayton is a great place to “pray,” the image on the right includes a church with a cross symbol.

How is that legal? Freedom From Religion Foundation Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler pointed out the problems to Mayor Tom Bianco last September:

Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause… Federal courts have also consistently ruled that religious symbolism, and crosses specifically, on municipal seals are unconstitutional.

We urge the Borough to immediately discontinue using this seal and to adopt a new representation of the Borough that is inclusive of all your citizens.

Bianco responded a month later saying the seal and motto had the “secular purpose of recognizing the history of the Borough.” Therefore, nothing would change.

That argument makes no sense, says Ziegler in a new follow-up letter:

The federal courts have consistently held that religious symbolism on official city seals is unconstitutional, even in the face of claims that the religious portions are in some way historical… Similarly, it’s not a city’s place to declare that it’s a good place to pray. The borough of Clayton ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by promoting a religious activity in its official motto… The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages.

It’s unclear if a lawsuit is imminent. But it’s sad that a mayor, knowing that the seal and motto alienate a large swath of the community, would still defend it in the name of history. You don’t have to stick with traditions when they’re bad.

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