Republic, Mo., officials vote to keep Christian symbol in town logo

Friday, May 15, 1998

Despite a likely legal battle, city officials in Republic, Mo., have decided to keep a depiction of an early Christian symbol in the town's logo.

Before a crowded, emotional and lengthy town meeting earlier this week, the Board of Alderman voted 5-2 in favor of keeping the logo with its inclusion of an ichthus — a fish symbol used by early Christians who lived under the Roman Empire.

“I am a Christian and an ex-Marine and I moved to Republic specifically because I loved this logo fish,” said Keith Miller, a resident who attended the town meeting. “In the military, I learned to fight for what I believe in, and I see this fish battle as my second baptism of fire.”

The Kansas and Western Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the board last week warning it that if the symbol of Christianity is not removed, a lawsuit will be filed. The lawsuit would allege that the symbol subverts the First Amendment's principle of separation of church and state.

After receiving the letter, the board voted to charge a citizen group—the Support Republic Committee — with the task of raising $100,000 to defend the logo against the lawsuit. According to the city's weekly newspaper, the Republic Monitor, the mayor and board have estimated the cost of defending the logo against an ACLU lawsuit to be more than $200,000 and that the citizen group should raise at least half of the estimated cost.

The large and emotional citizen turnout in favor of the symbol, however, appears to have influenced the board's vote as the citizen group has failed to raise even close to $100,000. As of Monday, the citizen group had raised about $5,000.

Another Republic citizen said, “The Lord put us here to fight for our symbol,” the Monitor reported.

Gay Revi, board member for the Ozarks chapter of the ACLU, said she was disappointed that the board and citizens have decided to ignore the First Amendment.

“The aldermen have adopted an 'us against them' attitude and have endorsed the belief that Republic is a sovereign state rather than a part of the U.S.,” Revi said. “Because of this impasse the ACLU will, in due course,” file suit against the town.

Revi said she does not know when the lawsuit will be filed but that the ACLU's legal team has been given the go-ahead by the state's board to file the legal action.

“The board of directors for the state ACLU is appalled by the egregious violation of separation of church and state that the government-supported symbol of Christianity represents,” she said.

Jim Henderson, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a national legal and educational firm devoted to religious liberty rights, said not all public displays of religion are automatically in violation of the establishment clause.

“I think the ACLU is fighting battles where they win about 60 percent of the time,” Henderson said. “The law is not settled that every symbol or emblem that a municipality, state or federal government might choose that has a religious significance constitutes a de facto establishment clause violation.”

Henderson noted that the Supreme Court has never ruled on such situations. He said circuit court decisions lean toward finding that the use of religious-infused symbols do raise establishment clause problems. He cited a case in New Mexico where a county seal containing Catholic symbols was found to be a violation of the establishment clause.

“I think the mixed signals are just another reflection of the complete stupidity of our establishment-clause jurisprudence,” he said. “The establishment clause, based on my understanding of the framers' intent, was not meant to be concerned with a city seal or emblem of this sort.”