Missouri town won’t continue fight for fish symbol on city seal

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

A southwest Missouri town has decided not to appeal a federal judge's ruling
barring it from using the Christian fish symbol on its town seal. The Republic
City Council voted 4-4 on July 19 to appeal the judge's decision before Mayor
Doug Boatright broke the tie.

U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark decided on July 9 that the town's use of
the Christian fish symbol on its seal violated the establishment clause of the
First Amendment, which mandates separation of church and state.

Jean Webb, a former Republic citizen, says she is glad the matter is over.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Webb filed suit in July
1998 seeking to have the fish symbol removed from the town's seal.

“We feel like we've been validated,” Webb said. However, she says she thinks it will take a long
time for townspeople to calm down over the issue.

Flags with the fish symbol were removed yesterday from City Hall, and the
seal on the city's Web page contains a blank spot where the fish symbol used to

City Councilman Billy Pool voted in favor of an appeal.

“At our last board meeting we said the appeal decision would come down to the
wishes of the people. I don't think that happened,” Pool said. A majority of the people who contacted him and
spoke out at the meeting were in favor of an appeal, Pool said, but lost their

In 1995, shortly after Webb moved to Republic, she wrote an opinion piece in
the city newspaper opposing the seal. She said the seal suggested that her
belief in Wicca, a nature-based religion that includes the practice of
witchcraft, would not be tolerated. To avoid persecution, Webb said that she and
her children pretended to be Baptists.

“We were pretending in reaction to seeing a town that marked its territory as
Christian,” she said.

Webb filed suit against the city but then decided to move to Springfield,
Mo., because she said she and her children had been harassed.

The ichthus, historically a symbol of Christianity, has appeared on
Republic's seal since 1990. Republic resident Marilyn Schexsnayder, who said she
thought the fish symbol represented all religions, drew the award-winning design
for a contest for a city seal.

Now that the fish symbol is gone, some people are already considering what
should take its place. Some suggest leaving the space in the seal blank while
others want to insert the words, “In God We Trust.”

Boatright, who said he voted not to appeal because the city needed to resolve
a divisive issue and move on, added that he was in no hurry to decide on a
replacement symbol.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.