The Seal of Austin, Texas Contains a Cross… and an Atheist is Speaking Out Against It

This is the city seal for Austin, Texas:

Activist Joe Zamecki (who co-founded Atheists Helping the Homeless) spoke yesterday to the Austin City Council about why they needed to remove the cross from the seal. His basic argument?

It doesn’t fairly represent the population of this great city, and our government should never actively promote religion in such a blatant and unnecessary way.

He explains why he argued against the current seal here:

And here’s video of his speech in front of the city council:

Just like the activists in Pennsylvania, there’s no reason anyone can’t do this. It just takes some courage.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Saddened

    No one is harmed by this, who doesn’t go out of their way to seek offense. It’s disgraceful to try to force your beliefs on everyone this way, when there is no harm. Not atheism, that’s not the belief your attempting to force on people.  The belief you are attempting to force on everyone is a specific, narrow interpretation of the establishment clause which caters to your outraged feelings whenever you look upon a (usually christian) religious symbol. 

    I pity people so threatened by innocuous imagery. You have the thinnest skins I’ve ever seen. 

    • Daniel Krull

      Religion aside, how exactly do you find a torture device to be “innocuous imagery”?

      • Joe Zamecki

        Yes, whenever I ask Christians if they realize that their favorite symbol of their religion is a torture device that’s been used to kill a great many people very slowly and painfully,  some of those Christians quickly point to their Jesus fish and say “It’s okay, we’ve got that too.” lol

        And whenever someone says that the opening prayer at the beginning of the city council meeting was to God and not Jesus, so it was open to everyone, we can point to the city seal just 30 feet away from the podium. No, it’s really about Jesus and Christianity, and we’re not all blind and stupid. 

    • MargueriteF

      “The belief you are attempting to force on everyone is a specific, narrow interpretation of the establishment clause which caters to your outraged feelings whenever you look upon a (usually christian) religious symbol.”

      As usual, turning it around may be the easiest way for you to see the Christian privilege here. Do you really think most people in Austin would be perfectly okay with a pentagram on that seal? Would it be regarded as “innocuous imagery,” or would people be clamoring to change it?

    • viddy_well

      What do you think would happen if the seal contained a non-Christian religious symbol? Do you think Christians would say, “Oh well, it’s just some innocuous imagery.” No, they’d be out in droves protesting it, because GOVERNMENT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO TAKE A POSITION ON RELIGION.

      Why is this so hard to understand?

      • agkcrbs

        That lamp is already a non-Christian symbol, as well as those outstretched eagle wings, or whatever they are.  OR, we could try to view them as being non-exclusive with Christianity: maybe the lamp is not necessarily some remnant of Arabian paganism, but also representative of the word of God.  The wings need not be fascist; they could symbolise rising into heaven.  The cross?  “Government-forced belief in Jesus!”  OR, without so much narrowness, it could point back to stern Roman justice, or maybe even a mathematical grid.  Perhaps fractals, in this case.  Is it possible to co-exist in our interpretations, so two disagreers can still get along?

        While I’m tempted to ask whether you can demonstrate your assumed, projected intolerance that you pass for logic, the real issue is one of heritage.  A sudden, hyper-offended demand of radical acceptance is different from a long-standing, long-accepted traditional element.  I never heard of any Christian in Mahomet, Illinois feeling threatened and marginalised, and clamouring to throw out their town name.  But who knows?  Maybe everybody really is so fragile, and this whole idea of religious freedom needs to go, in favour of… you guessed it… state-sponsored atheism.  That’ll sure prove we’ve learned from the mistakes of history.

        • Baby_Raptor

          Nice try, but state sponsored Atheism would be as much a violation as the cross is now, and we wouldn’t want that either. 

          You’re not enlightened or smart, you’re just a condescending ass who is trying to find loopholes to defend your privilege. Why does it bother you so much that we want our rights respected?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Rodgers/1621390164 Rich Rodgers

           That wasn’t even a nice try. Taking a cross off of something is not “state sponsored atheism” any more than taking the gun from someone robbing a store would be “state imposed capitalism”. You are simultaneously trying to say it’s not very important while throwing a hissy fit about how important it is.

          • agkcrbs

            Cute.  All I’ve done is rejected absurd legal arguments, one of which actual courts of jurisdiction over this case have already rejected before me.  You waste people’s time by seizing on a sarcastic line and ignoring the real point: that malcontented atheists like the one behind this effort, calling heritage “very ugly” out of his own blindness to it, are claiming their rights are abused in situations where no right has really been damaged; no state religion has been established, except in the bitter recesses of their furious minds.  In the first place, separation of church and state doesn’t mean forbidding those comprising government from having or expressing a religion; it means government can’t materially support any church or legally direct citizens toward any one religious belief or practice.  In the second place, the Austin cross isn’t even a religious expression.  But let the courts decide; my opinion is just that.

            You guys go ahead and create your own backlash, as more people see such campaigns for what they are: narrow and intolerant.  As you suggested elsewhere, it’s really nothing to me, beyond its absurdity; it’s no symbol of my religion.  Just as no atheist is being impinged upon with this seal, so no Christian would be tangibly hurt or deprived by removing it.  Let Austin whitewash its history if it sees fit.  Or, let it toss out such selfish, fallacious claims if it sees fit… as it did last time.

    • Anonymous Atheist

      Atheists are saddened by ignorant oblivious assertions from a position of majority privilege, claiming that some constitutional violations don’t matter because they’re the type that’s easy to grit our teeth and silently put up with.

    • Margaret Whitestone

      It’s not innocuous imagery.  It’s just one more instance of Christians flaunting the law and saying to “f*ck you” to everyone who isn’t a Christian.

      • agkcrbs

        Yet, I’m pretty sure no Christian has ever said that to you, or restricted your otherwise free activity in any other way.  If you have unseen tormentors shouting profanities in your head, that’s no argument that cities have to deface their traditional symbols or bury their history to comport with a law forbidding the establishment of a state church.

        • amycas

           Atheists don’t force the government to tell every there is no god. Christians go out of their way to make sure the government tells everyone they should believe in god, and many times, explicitly the Christian god. Tradition is no excuse for breaking the law.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Rodgers/1621390164 Rich Rodgers

           He was paraphrasing your basic argument for you. You seem to think that as long as nobody comes along and forces us to our knees in church you should be allowed to throw crosses and commandments all over my government. And you are teaching us something with your “it’s just tradition and heritage” pap. We need to complain often and loudly and immediately when these things take place so that you can never again use this argument against us. Just because a wrong has been happening for a long time, it’s not a reason to let it continue.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Saddened, maybe a visual demonstration will help. If you really think that “no one is harmed by this,” then you should have no problem whatsoever with any of these variations of the city seal:

      • agkcrbs

        Nice pictures; do you really presuppose offense from them?  If Muslims or what-have-you had actually founded the city of Austin, for what possible reason would the city seal -not- illustrate that important fact, other than religious egotism or a phobia of history?

        • Baby_Raptor

          Why does it matter that the people who founded the city were christians? And if it really does matter, then record it somewhere not in the state seal, in a way that violates the law. 

          It doesn’t really matter what defenses you come up with, or how logical you attempt to sound. They’re breaking the law, and stepping on peoples’ rights. And that’s never okay.

          • agkcrbs

            I see that logic “doesn’t matter” to you if it goes against your preconceptions, but you’ll excuse me in making one more attempt…  How is having a symbol amidst several other symbols in an old city seal “stepping on people’s rights”?  Is the symbol somehow forcing you to do anything?  Does it somehow addict you to Christianity?  Does it compel you to adopt a certain view, interpretation, or belief?  Does any law make you bow in respect to the symbol?  Can you even tell which denomination or group the symbol is supposedly enshrining?  Or is Austin giving money to certain religious bodies, or allowing them to preach where others can’t, or freely commit crimes that others are punished for?  Can you point to a single, tangible expression of Austin city leaders using this historical seal to establish one religion and interfere with others – beyond your subjective claim of psychological trauma that rather suggests your own inability to cope with other opinions?

            If you can, let’s hear it.  Or if you admit your offense exists only inside your own decision to be offended, and you just enjoy exuding victimhood, go ahead.  You’re still being an iconoclast.  You come along, see something of significance, decide you don’t like it, throw a tantrum, make up accusations, and smash it to pieces, congratulating yourself for your crusade of intolerance.

            • amycas

               You why the seal is wrong? Because every time somebody tries to discuss the separation of church and state, Christians who have read David Barton come along and say things like,”Well, this is a Christian nation, and it was founded on Christianity. Just look at the pledge–it has “in god we trust” on it. Look at all these city seals that have Christian imagery. If those were allowed, then clearly this is a Christian nation, so we should be allowed to codify our religion into laws.” That’s why we fight the little things. They add up. When they do, Christians use this against us in an attempt to make real laws against us.

              • agkcrbs

                But what laws?  Is there any real, objective law coming against you as an atheist, or pushing you into practicing or even believing Christianity?

                I think what you might see as the dangerous codification of religion into law, many would see as merely the valid expression of the democratic will, unconnected to any single religious entity.  Outlawing murder could be seen as a religious codification into law, since churches directly forbid it.  But such a law foists no church on citizens, nor even a moral belief.  It only reflects society’s ingrained concepts of right and wrong.

                So, I think it would benefit an atheist to appreciate the difference between disallowing a real, live state religion as exists in some countries, and disallowing “religious values” broadly embedded in a culture.  The first is possible in a free, functioning democracy.  The second isn’t – not without curtailing self-government.

                Granted, some Christians can get carried away, and fail to sufficiently distinguish between a historical foundation in a Christian setting with much preference for and reference to Christian ideas, and a democratic modern country that may or may not recognise its basis, but that either way must answer to the varied, protected religious attitudes of its citizens.

                • Dan

                   So would you call it the ‘democratic will’ of the people, which is not to be trifled with, if towns were putting atheist symbols on their seal, the nation was putting ‘God in a Myth’ on money and in pledges, and had mandatory speeches about atheism being true before public events? I would loudly denounce that as unconstitutional behavior too, as I suspect you would.

                  And comparing someone wanting to outlaw murder for religious reasons with someone wanting to use the state to endorse their religious views is just laughable. There are good secular reasons to outlaw murder, independent of someone’s religious beliefs. There is no secular reason for the state to elevate belief over non-belief, especially when that belief is almost exclusively one sect. In fact there are good secular reasons for the state to stay neutral on religious questions.

                  Americas was not founded on Christian principles. It was founded on enlightenment principles. Seriously, try to find freedom of religion, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc in the Bible. What you will actual find is that when the Christian ‘god’ set up a society from scratch he set it up so morally retrograde that it compares unfavorably to North Korea in civil rights and humane treatment of citizens.

                • amycas

                   What laws? Really, you have to ask that? How about the Christian right’s insistence on denying equal rights to the lgbt community? How about the very real dominionists who are fighting for actual biblical laws (such as a return to stoning and other executions for just about every crime)?

                  I don’t care about the “democratic will of the people” when it violates the constitution. The bill of rights defines everyone’s rights to protect the minority form the tyranny of the majority. The United States is not and never has been a pure democracy. It’s the same basic reason why we have an electoral college instead of just a popular vote for the presidency. Please, go take another American civics class.

                • agkcrbs

                  Good job disenfranchising every other opponent of homosexual marriage, by implying that marriage laws (unless they match your view) are an establishment of one religion.  If they are, they are on both sides, and the best approach is to localise the debate.  But “Christianity” is in no way a single religion, as you should know, and those belonging to various Christian churches aren’t the only ones who think marriage is a union of two genders.

                  Your second argument is a tired one.  The “democratic will” you don’t care about established the Constitution you pretend to support. You know that every individual right and every “minority protection” we have was instituted by a majority vote of some degree or other, just like every other part of our government. True, it’s not a direct democracy, but it’s still the majority will, refracted through structures of delegation.  Majority representation still offers our only legal mechanism for changing the Constitution.  Dismiss the fundamental value of democracy all you like; it just shows your proclivity for bending the law to your private aims.  All tyranny is minority tyranny.  Majority rule equals self-government.  Majorities are not always ideal, but they’re always inherently more justified than an equally dominant minority.  If your “American civics” class has blinded you to this fact, try some independent reason outside of your textbook.

                • amycas

                   I really don’t care if I’ve disenfranchised non-christians who are also against marriage equality. You can’t deny that the vast majority of support and funding for anti-lgbt legislation comes from Christian groups and sources.

                  As for the rest of your post, it just smacks of not understanding how rights are protected in this country. The majority cannot vote on issues that deal with civil rights. The courts have ruled time and time again, that you cannot vote away the rights of the minority (at least not without huge changes to the constitution). Ignore court precedence and the bill of rights all you want, but it’s not going to go away.

                  And if you have a problem with protecting minority rights from the tyranny of the majority, then you’ll have to take it up with those who wrote the constitution.

                  Quick clarification: I only said I didn’t care about the democratic will in regards to civil rights, because that’s what the courts have declared over and over again.

                • agkcrbs

                  Hm; another addition to the growing list of things you don’t care about, Amycas.  If I can’t deny that Christian values have percolated into the democratic rejection (in some places) of homosexual marriage, then you can’t deny that most Americans claim some type of Christian beliefs — so of course those beliefs will show up in their votes, and there’s no way to prevent it except by circumventing democracy, or persuading them into other beliefs.

                  In your worshipful zeal toward the holy Constitution, the immaculate Bill of Rights, and the sacred Courts, that have all magically appeared to protect minority interests, you keep skipping over a point already made, that majorities (namely, state delegates to the authoring convention as well as the ratifying state conventions) voted all these holy protections into effect.  You can’t sever the Constitutional tree from its roots that are of, by, and for the people (hopefully meaning “all people”, but in case of any conflict, meaning “the majority of the people”).  In this country’s government, you can’t get to any higher earthly authority than a majority “democratic will”, even today, as we elect congressmen to write our laws and presidents to approve and execute them, and to select judges for Congress to accept, to tell us what’s constitutional — and as we vote on amendments to constrain alike judges, presidents, and congresses.  This happens even more frequently on the state level.  But the entire process is predicated on answering to the will of the largest possible common set of voters, not the will of small subsets.

                  This is relevant here in that those promoting total, sterile secularisation of the public square, to forbid any government mention of anybody’s belief in anything, effectively establishing a de facto state atheism, must have the sympathies of most Americans to accomplish such a hope.  Or if they find themselves ignored as pariahs, despite endlessly wailing about how everybody else is breaking the Constitution and they alone follow the law, they should at least understand why they’re in that position, and what “the law” really is: an aggregation over time of majority will.

                • amycas

                   It seems you didn’t actually read what I wrote, and you don’t know the history of how the constitution was written (not by a majority), or the fact that common law (which our laws are based off of) is based on court precedence. The columns are too narrow now for a real response though. So thread death ensues.

      • Joe Zamecki

        Richard, those are great! Thanks for doing that. I’d like to use that in my work on this issue, if you don’t mind. Very well done. :)

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          They’re very tiny. I’ll send you the larger version so you can use it in whatever medium you need.

    • Edmond

      Gosh, you’re right.  Christians should actually have carte blanche to go wild with whatever imagery they see fit to include in official government seals.  How silly of anyone who’s not a Christian.

    • Baby_Raptor

      If it was a Muslim symbol, and you were complaining, would you accept “Nobody is harmed by this”? After all, it’s just a religious symbol.

      I pity people who get offended and insulting when their privilege is called out. I know, it’s totally offensive that we dare to want our rights respected just like you do yours. 

      Also, separation of church and state is not a “specific, narrow” interpretation of the EC. Anyone choosing to believe that is refusing to look at the intention of the men who wrote it. So you are the one deserving of pity. 

      • Pseudonym

        I can’t speak for Saddened, but if my city was founded and was given its name by a Muslim person, whose family crest was adapted to be the seal of the city a hundred or so years ago, and by this mechanism there was a Muslim symbol on my city’s crest, then I wouldn’t complain about it.

        If the symbol didn’t have the same provenance, or was adopted a decade ago, I’d complain. I’d also complain were it a cross.

    • Hmmm

      I routinely see religious symbols and give them hardly a thought. They appear on places of worship, private property, clothing, etc., etc., etc. the only ones that offend me are the ones that try to assert that OUR government is founded on a particular religion. The fact that the founders happened to believe in any given religion is irrelevant, as demonstrated by their decision to explicitly forbid state sponsorship of any religion. Actually, if you start delving into the history of the constitution, it becomes clear how much wiser and far-sighted they were compared to the people making these arguments in favor of religious iconography today.

  • Jasmyn

    I miss living in Austin. When you posted this story originally, I was amazed because it’s such a liberal and diverse town. Aside from the cross being something of an endorsement of religion, it really doesn’t even fit Austin.

    • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

      Especially as the mother church of Scientology is based there.

  • A3Kr0n

    A cross and a genie bottle too.

    • Anonymous Atheist

      I suspect the intent of the ‘genie bottle’ was the common symbolism of a lamp of learning/knowledge. An ironic juxtaposition with the cross. ;)

      • Hmmm

        I took the top of an old academic trophy and used it as ahold ornament, symbolizing that the Lampof Knowledge lights my way. When people notice it, they usually rub it as if to conjure a genie. I am not sure whether to be amused by this or roll my eyes in disgust. Usually, I decide to go with amused.

        • Hmmm

          *a hood

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Unlike the recently-discussed seal of Travis County, the county that contains Austin, this Austin seal does have a clear obvious blatant cross… which needs to go.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/08/19/a-texas-county-will-etch-a-christian-cross-into-its-seal/

    • Joe Zamecki

      Yes. Now what’s interesting for us Austinites opposed to the crosses is that Austin falls under the jurisdiction of both the city AND the county of Travis, because Austin is inside of Travis County. Help! We got crosses out da wazoo!~

      • Anonymous Atheist

        At least the Texas state seal is apparently (rather surprisingly) cross-free.

        • Minus

           Shhh, somebody might hear you and get ideas.

  • Charles Rolling

    As a native Austinite and a proud atheist my first thought was, eh. Then on second thought…eh. Never saw the cross there and never heard of a believer pointing at it and saying “see that cross, we are such a city founded in Christ.”
    This city is so much better than any other part of this state that this issue just doesn’t do it for me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      I didn’t know the story was about you and how you feel.

    • amycas

       I’ve had Christians point to city seals, and other forms of Christian imagery in government, as a means of saying this is a Christian nation. Then they go on to say that they should be allowed to make laws that blatantly codify their religion into law.

  • Py

     There seriously is no way you can word your argument against that cross that does not come across as anything other than petty, arrogant, and just plain spiteful.

    Please, pick your battles better than this.

    • TnkAgn

      This is Mr. Zamecki’s battle, and I don’t think it petty nor arrogant. 

      I looked at the demographics for Austin, TX and I’m betting there are a lot of non-Christians as residents. And there will be more, not fewer in the future.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Well, there is one way: The law says it’s illegal. And guess what? The law trumps the local christian butthurt.

    • Joe Zamecki

      I think if you’ll watch the videos I’ve made about this, you’ll notice that I’m not trying to start any “battle.” 

  • Joe Zamecki

    It’s a cross — WITH WINGS! Actually this version and most other versions have a cross that is actually four crosses. You can count ‘em! :o )

  • agkcrbs

    Are city seals understood as representations of all the changing views held by all the people in the city over time?  That would be impossible anyway.  Are they not rather historical emblems showing the foundation and background of cities?  Do historical pictures actually amount to government promotion of a certain church or religion, such that any public reference to any form of belief must be ferretted out, enlarged in .jpg format, and eradicated from society to shield the feelings of atheists who decide that exposure to belief victimises them?  Is that a mindset we would consider “courageous”?

    Of course, a city is free to dismiss history and decide that they should periodically update their past symbols, but this just seems like more iconoclasm, and is strangely reminiscent of the Taliban, also offended at unelightened history, blowing up the disbelieved-in, non-representative Bamiyan statues in 2001.  The atheist who knows how to tolerate will enjoy tolerance in turn.

    • TnkAgn

      Oh, you mean like how the Catholic Spanish Conquistadors destroyed the religious symbols and edifices of the Aztec and Maya cultures, and replaced them with their own. 

      Mr. Zamecki is not advocating the destruction of churches in Austin, nor San Antonio’s Alamo, a Spanish mission. The Austin museums should have all the references to its religious heritage that they can find and display. But why the city seal, a seal that supposedly represents all the citizens of Austin.

      • agkcrbs

        You seem to have skipped over my questioning the notion that city seals are supposed to be representations of the current religious beliefs of the citizens — strange, since you would relegate the old seal to a museum, reinforcing its historical status.  But if Austin’s as liberal as some here claim, and if the people want to indulge in this symbolic book-burning, then let democracy prevail.

        • TnkAgn

          No, you misunderstand, and then misrepresent.

          Religious views are addressed in the very 1st Amendment, and for good reason. Austinites (why not “Austinians?”) may argue about many things that are represented on the seal that represents their fair city and its history. But so strong is the effect of the symbolism of religion (witness the grim and violent world and US history of same) that our U.S. Constitution addresses it in total, including an implied separation of church and state.

          I would relegate the old Austin seal to a museum or museums, as my previous post suggests. I also suggest that in time, the Bible itself will become objects in dioramas depicting the history of the world, and America. Keeping the current Seal of the City of Austin, with the cross, is a sop to tradition that carries a religious intent, and in the scope of the Constitution, invalid – or should be, depending on the makeup of SCOTUS.

          I do not condone book-burning, symbolic or otherwise. Does the eventual retirement of the “Cross Seal of Austin” to the Austin and Texas museums strike you as “book burning?” I bet not, when you think about it.

    • Hmmm

      Huh? Haven’t we been tolerating xians for aeons? They didn’t seem inclined to tolerate us until we started making and winning these kinds of arguments in the public sphere. Some xians continue to dig in their heels, but open-minded people across the nation began to say, oh, I guess I never really thought about how they might feel” and change slowly took place. Have you never heard the argument, “we’ll, it’s been that way forever, and nobody complained before”? The only way we will get them to admit they are wrong about this being a xian nation will be to demonstrate that non-xians exist.

  • MisterMaury

    I guess I’m more offended the state allows license plates that state “One State Under God”…  That is essentially the state claiming everyone here believes that stuff…

    http://blog.chron.com/believeitornot/2012/03/texas-one-state-under-god-cross-license-plates-available/

    A large Atheist convention will be here in Austin next year.  Perhaps we can get Matt Dillahunty to sponsor a “One State without a god” license plate.  Would they state be able to disallow it if we had enough people?  (I’m sure they would try…)

  • Sven

    Hemant, didn’t you roll out with a ratings scale some time ago about the level of outrage and/or legal action atheists should take on specific topics, ranging from ‘ignore it’ to ‘call the ACLU’?  Or am I confusing you for someone else?
    To me, this isn’t a good fight.  A tiny part of an old emblem isn’t a government position on, or an endorsement of, religion.  We should be vigilant for ACTUAL government endorsements, like asking kids to pray in schools, or giving tax money to religious causes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I think this is a case worth fighting, though. A religious symbol shouldn’t be part of a city seal, and if we don’t fight this, then it gives Christians more incentive to do it in other cities. It might not have much consequence but it’s a fight on principles. If we don’t go after small things, larger things will happen.

      • agkcrbs

        …More incentive to do what?  What “larger things will happen”?  Are you suggesting bands of fanatics are sneaking around the country, secretly switching in religious symbols to city seals?  If anything, the opposite is true.  None of the many iterations of Christianity has instigated anything here.  The Austin seal was designed 80 years after the city’s 1836 birth, to highlight the contribution of one of the founders of Texas, the namesake of the city, Stephen Austin, who died not long prior to the city’s incorporation.  The cross was part of his family crest.  (http://www.austinlibrary.com/ahc/faq7.htm)  But out of nowhere, atheists start making the bizarre claim that it’s blurring the lines of church (which church? …*silence*) and state in abstract ways.  The alarmism of your comment just doesn’t match the context.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Rodgers/1621390164 Rich Rodgers

           Well Stephen Austin has every right to have the cross on his personal symbol. That is fine. But as a crest for the entire city, the cross has no business being there. Get used to atheists “coming out of nowhere” and challenging these things. As far as alarmism is concerned, you seem far more alarmed about this than anyone else posting. Why is that? If it’s such a little thing, why can’t we just get rid of it? It’s just a silly little cross that doesn’t mean much to you anyway… right?

          • Joe Zamecki

            Rich – Exactly. If it’s not important, we should be able to fix it easily. That’s the thing about little problems. They ought to be easy to fix, as long as they’re actually little. The longer this symbol is there, and the more that people advocate that it stays, the more they prove that it’s not a little thing. It’s actually quite important, as they will prove. 

      • Sven

        “…then it gives Christians more incentive to do it in other cities.”
        You say it like Christians just added this cross last week.  If the cross was a recent addition, I would be 100% on your side.  This city’s seal is so old it predates the civil war, if I’m not mistaken.  There’s nothing new about this seal, no emergent problem.  It has been a non-issue for >170 years.  Why is it an issue now, all of a sudden?

        If I had it my way, religion would be out of every government sphere, including city seals, but the general public perception of atheists is bad enough without us going after nit-picky things like this.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      If there was a way to grandfather in seals like this where the cross is fairly obviously of historical merit, and not an overt religious statement, I’d agree with you. But I don’t know how to do that without making it easy for towns to adopt new seals, with less pure motives where crosses are included.

      I don’t see how it can come down to anything but a choice between simple opposition to religious symbols on all seals, or a case-by-case fight, ad infinitum, as cities point to examples like Austin to justify their own nonsecular agendas.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

        What is obvious or historical about this cross?  It’s a fairly exotic shape, with wings, yet.  We don’t need to put crosses on everything just because the Conquistadors and their friars were the first Europeans in the area.  They were looking for gold, remember?

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          The seal itself is 100 years old, and is based on the medieval family crest of the Austin family (wings and cross). That sounds pretty historical to me. I’d like to respect the history of an area, and if that includes crosses, I don’t have a problem with it. But like I said, I don’t think that’s a practical viewpoint if it degenerates to defending or rejecting each and every seal on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes zero-tolerance may be the only thing that works, even if it’s not a very good policy in general.

        • Hmmm

          I thought it looked more like three crosses, as in, the three crosses at Calvary. But maybe it is a cross with wings. IDK.

  • MisterMaury

    Also, not sure you guys realize this, but some sneaky Atheist put an “A” symbol at the start of the word Austin…

    And to the person on here saying we shouldn’t care….  They sure seems to care a lot about it staying!   If we are expected to not care if it is there, others should be expected to not care if it is gone.  (Unless of course they feel their feelings are more valid than other people’s.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=35702181 Christopher Check

    It’s an old symbol.  I can see the people of the city moving to change the seal if they feel it’s time to go, but with something like that, there’s no real reason to fight it as long as the city isn’t actively promoting (as opposed to this, which is more passive) the religion.

    The movement to replace this shouldn’t be one stemming from the desire to get rid of the iconography.  It should be one indicating that the citizens of the city feel moved to replace the symbol and give the city one which better-reflects its character.

    • Joe Zamecki

      I think the city promotes the city seal. Here in Austin, it’s a very prominent symbol. They put it onto city vehicles, our electric bills, parking meters, public schools, public parks, public libraries, city historical markers, etc. Essentially, it’s all over the place in this city, and our city government is obviously very proud of it. Check out the video I made about it. I included evidence in the form of several pics I took recently. 

  • MargueriteF

    Okay, here’s another one. I grew up in Virginia Beach, where we have this seal:

    http://www.vbgov.com/about/pages/city-state-symbols.aspx 

    Notice the big honkin’ cross behind the lighthouse. This city seal is prominently displayed, most notably on “Mount Trashmore” (no, I am not making that up), the big artificial hill visible to all tourists as they drive up I-264 to the oceanfront. 

    http://www.vbgov.com/government/departments/parks-recreation/parks-trails/city-parks/pages/mount-trashmore-park.aspx 

    Now, the thing is that you really can argue this cross is historical (and see how quickly I start justifying it when it’s my own city?). The cross is representative of the first settlers’ landing at Cape Henry, where a cross was supposedly erected in 1607, and a newer one, erected in 1035, still stands on public land:

    http://www.virginia.org/Listings/HistoricSites/CrossatCapeHenry/ 

     CBN uses this event to justify the “Christian nation” argument in this article:

    http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/churchandministry/churchhistory/cape_henry_a_christian_nation.aspx 

    So… historical, or a constitutional violation? I think I’m too close to this one to decide, frankly. I’m so used to seeing that seal that it doesn’t bother me in the least. But now that I’m thinking about it, I am rather uncomfortable that one of the first things tourists see while driving through Virginia Beach is that giant seal and its prominent cross.

    • Joe Zamecki

      The “it’s historical” argument has always bothered me. A lot of negative things are “historical.” If we wanted a seal that shows how Texas came into being, it would involve the flag of Mexico and something from the various native tribes who lived here before. It would also involve the Confederate flag, since Texas was a part of the Confederacy. I think a city seal should be appropriate for the past AND the present. Also, religion is a special issue. It’s a very sensitive issue. To me, that means anything religious on the seal is up for serious scrutiny, and subject to a rational correction. Plus, Texas is now a diverse state with a diverse population. We’re trying hard to show that we’re not all narrow minded cowboys, because we’re not. Officially, we have embraced the religious diversity that brings things like new Mosques here and there. Austin has a very nice Buddhist temple, for example. Our liberal city embraces diversity, so the seal should reflect that. 

      • MargueriteF

        I agree, generally the “historical” argument bothers me. But in the case of Virginia Beach, the cross commemorates a very important event in American history, the landing of the first English settlers (or the first who managed to establish a colony, rather). Historically, Christopher Newport is supposed to have put up a cross to offer thanks for their safe crossing, and there is still a monument standing there (admittedly the monument was put up in the 20th century). The Virginia Beach seal (and flag) commemorate this with both the cross and the lighthouse, which are labeled “landmarks of our nation’s beginnings” (the city motto). The lighthouse itself dates from 1792.

        I can’t decide if the “it’s historical” argument is valid in this particular case, or if I’m just biased because I’ve been looking at that seal all my life.

  • James

    Crosses have been around since the beginning of human civilization.  The real problem here is that we seem to view the cross as a religious symbol.  It’s not.  Just as the swastika is not a symbol of Nazism.  These ancient ‘shapes’ any many others have been stolen and abused by modern organizations.  We simply need to take them back.

    American’s have bigger fish to fry on the religion front, especially in Texas.  Speaking of fish…

    • MargueriteF

      “The real problem here is that we seem to view the cross as a religious symbol.  It’s not.”

      Well, regardless of what the cross may have meant historically, to Americans in the present day it stands for Christianity. I don’t think there’s any getting around that, and if one attempted to redefine the public’s perception of it, that would likely take years.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Sure, lots of symbols have had different meanings to different societies. That doesn’t mean the cross isn’t the symbol of Christianity, or the swastika the symbol of Nazism. And the point is, that is how modern observers interpret both.

      We don’t need to “take back” the cross. Let Christianity have their torture device as a symbol. But lets keep it in its place… which isn’t city seals.

  • mooseman

    Dammit. I’m just going to go ahead and say it. This is the kind of guy that makes Atheists look bad. Just one of those people who looks for things to be pissed off about and ends up making the rest of us look like assholes. People need to learn to pick their battles.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      He did pick his battle. You didn’t pick it, and you don’t have to fight it. It’s worth it to him, and not to you. As far as people thinking “we’re assholes,” it’s a few thousand years too late to start worrying about that. Have you picked any battles that you think are worth fighting, or are you just concerned with not “looking bad”?

  • Simon

    The Louisiana state flag is a Christian symbol…good luck with that one :)

    • MargueriteF

      Do you have a link? I looked up “Louisiana state flag,” and what I found was a picture of a pelican feeding her young (or bleeding for her young), with the words “Union, Justice and Confidence” beneath. What am I missing?

      • Ibis3

         http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast244.htm

      • Anonymous Atheist

        It is a pelican, which is the state bird. But it’s also an obscure reference, based on bullshit misinterpretations of nature by medieval Christians, that’s little-known to the general public nowadays. I’d never heard of it before now. There’s so many actual blatant crosses on seals to worry about that *are* obviously Christianity-endorsing to the general public, something this obscure seems like a lower priority.

        Wikipedia: Flag of Louisiana

        ” The flag of Louisiana consists of a heraldic charge called a “pelican in her piety,” representing a mother pelican wounding her breast to feed her young from the blood. This symbol, emblematic of Christian charity, is also found on the state seal. On the flag it is depicted above a ribbon with the state motto: “Union, Justice, and Confidence”. The current flag was adopted in 2006, revising the original pelican design of 1912. ”

        Wikipedia: Pelican: Mythology and popular culture: Christianity

        ” In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican came to symbolise the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist, and usurped the image of the lamb and the flag. A reference to this mythical characteristic is contained for example in the hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Adoro te devote” or “Humbly We Adore Thee”, where in the penultimate verse he describes Christ as the “loving divine pelican, able to provide nourishment from his breast”. Elizabeth I of England adopted the symbol, portraying herself as the “mother of the Church of England”. Nicholas Hilliard painted the Pelican Portrait in around 1573, which now owned by the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. A pelican feeding her young is depicted in an oval panel at the bottom of the title page of the first (1611) edition of the King James Bible.

        The self-sacrificial aspect of the pelican was reinforced by the widely read mediaeval bestiaries. The device of “a pelican in her piety” or “a pelican vulning (from Latin vulno to wound) herself” was used in heraldry. An older version of the myth is that the pelican used to kill its young then resurrect them with its blood, again analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus. Likewise a folktale from India says that a pelican killed her young by rough treatment but was then so contrite that she resurrected them with her own blood. The legends of self-wounding and the provision of blood may have arisen because of the impression a pelican sometimes gives that it is stabbing itself with its bill. In reality, it often presses this onto its chest in order to fully empty the pouch. Another possible derivation is the tendency of the bird to rest with its bill on its breast; the Dalmatian Pelican has a blood-red pouch in the early breeding season and this may have contributed to the myth. ”

        • MargueriteF

          Ahhh, shame on me for not doing a little basic research. My only excuse is that I was on the way out the door, and didn’t have time to look around. But honestly, I think there’s a difference between a universally known symbol like a cross, and an obscure symbol with generally unknown mythological overtones. The first may be worth arguing about; the second probably isn’t.

          • Anonymous Atheist

            I agree.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    The red part looks like some caped figure extending its arms…with a spiked helmet.

    The Aladdin’s lamp is cute, though.

  • Texas1

    http://laredobuzz.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/image0033.jpg

    This is the Seal from my home town in Texas, about 3 hours south of Austin.  The church is in fact a still standing historical monument in the National Register of Historical Places, and the seal also features 5 foreign flags, along with the US and Texas flags, representing the 7 Nations that have at some point in history laid claim to my town (as opposed to 6 Nations that have laid claim to Texas).
    There is so much history in the design of my city’s seal that I am very forgiving for the prominent church being displayed on there, but I look at it through it’s historical context, and would never fight to have it removed.  Ditto for the Seal of Austin, TX.

  • garth

    I see a lamp, does that mean the city supports genies?

  • garth

    I see a lamp, does that mean the city supports genies?

  • Khundun

    if i say that i do not believe in the energy of bozons. does it mean they don’t exist? after all no one as ever observed them or have they?


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