Officials endorse fish symbol in town seal; will fight for its survival

Tuesday, March 10, 1998

REPUBLIC, Mo. (AP) – City officials say they’ll fight to keep this southwest Missouri town’s fish logo in the face of a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU has asked the city of Republic to remove the fish icon from its emblem, saying use of the Christian symbol violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion by government.

Members of the Board of Aldermen say they do not want to change the logo. A letter responding to the ACLU will be drafted for the board to approve on March 23.

ACLU officials will review Republic’s letter before deciding what action to take, said Ralph R. Smith, president of the Ozarks chapter of the ACLU. He said a lawsuit was a possibility.

Smith said the ACLU received several complaints about the logo, included one from a Republic resident.

“This type of thing, it seems to me … breaches the social agreement that underlies the First Amendment,” Smith said, meaning the need to keep church and state separate.

About 60 people attended the March 9 meeting of the Board of Alderman, with 16 speaking in favor of keeping the logo. No one spoke in support of the ACLU.

Republic Mayor Doug Boatright said the fish icon, a sign of Christianity used in the catacombs in ancient Rome, stands as a symbol that the community values religious faith in general, not any specific religion.

“I was annoyed and flabbergasted at such a stupid thing,” said resident Nita Westman, who owns a nail-care shop. Her first reaction, she said, was that she would paint fish on all her customers’ nails.

Westman is passing out fliers with a large fish drawing and the words “Faith and Love Spoken Here.”

DeWayne Willis, a rabbi, said the four Jewish families living in Republic do not feel threatened by the city’s Christian majority, nor by the fish on the city logo.

West Republic Baptist Church pastor Dan Weaver said the fish represents Christianity, which meshes with the Christian thinking of those who founded the nation.

But Smith of the ACLU said, “Continuing to use it in this way might be understood to be saying to non-Christians that they aren’t welcome.”

Insurance agent Ken Knierim said that with serious problems like crime to tackle, taking on a city logo is trivial.

“Somebody does not have enough work to do,” Knierim said.

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