What if the Austin City Seal Didn’t Have a Cross On It…?

Yesterday, Hemant posted a story about how Joe Zamecki was fighting against the city seal of Austin, Texas — which features a cross on it:

Some of the commenters — both Christians and atheists — don’t seem to think this is a big deal. Some of the Christians say this isn’t government endorsement of religion, it’s just a part of the city’s history.

Some atheists have commented that this is not a battle worth fighting and that Joe Zamecki should pick a more important battle.

My question to the Christians is this: Would they react the same way if the seal looked like any of these:

My guess is that any one of those seals would upset many Christians. And yet, when it’s their cross on the seal, they remain silent or opposed to any attempt to change it. I ask Christians to consider that efforts to keep religion out of government both in symbol and in substance are protecting their religious freedom.

I also have a question for the atheists who say this is not an important issue: Would the battle be worth fighting if the seal looked like this?

Austin City Seal big cross

The cross on the original seal is small. It’s human nature to not be alarmed by small things. How big would the cross need to be to become a statement that says, “This is a Christian city and non-Christians are second-class citizens”?

I’m not suggesting that, if left alone, the cross will grow bigger on the seal. My point is: pernicious religious influence in government is growing bigger, not just in its symbols, but in laws, policy, and presumptive attitudes. How big does it all have to get to finally trigger your alarms?

I’ve heard people object to the “slippery slope fallacy” when someone suggests that a small problem can grow into a big problem. I think that objection is sometimes used as a rationalization for apathy and inaction. Yes, not all small problems will grow big, but fires can, tumors can, leaks in dams can, and political ideologies can. 

Consider that small fires, tumors, and leaks are easier to stop than big ones. Consider that the battle that Joe Zamecki has picked will be easier to win now rather than later. Consider that he’s fighting this small battle now so that you won’t have to fight a bigger one later.

If it’s still not a battle you would pick — if you still won’t support him — at least don’t discourage him.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • JD

    You have to start somewhere.

    That atheists have tried to eliminate religion because of atheism is historical fact…


  • Joe Zamecki

    Thanks Richard! I’d like to hear from supporters of this effort about what I should do. I’m waiting to hear back from some groups about helping me, but it may just be me alone on this one. It’s okay by me, I’m not hell-bent on this. It’s important to just educate the public and speak out a little bit about it. I appreciate the support that’s been expressed! :o) 

  • jdm8

    A secular state does not equate to an atheist state. The US is designed as a secular government, as in, not a theocracy. The major pushes by Christian politicians and evangelical ministersare pushes for a theocratic state.

  • Pureone

    That was one religion replacing another. Replace the Icons; tweak the ritual a bit. Religion made it easier for the propaganda machine. 

  • Savoy47

    Going after these small infractions is equivalent to the way New
    York went after crime using the broken windows


    Under the broken windows theory, an ordered and
    clean environment – one which is maintained – sends the signal that the area is
    monitored and that criminal behavior will not be tolerated. Conversely, a
    disordered environment – one which is not maintained (broken windows, graffiti,
    excessive litter) – sends the signal that the area is not monitored and that
    one can engage in criminal behavior with little risk of detection.

  • Djlong77

    I am an atheist living in Austin and I can honestly say that none of the above mock ups would bother me nor most of my christian friends and family. I actually quite like the 8 spoke wheel of karma one, it looks like the captains’ wheel on a steamboat. Austin is a pretty inclusive city though we’re not really representative of the rest of Texas.

  • Joe Zamecki

    The cross part conflicts with the inclusive part. So it’s not representative of an inclusive city. It screams out that this is a Christian city, and not an inclusive one. When one religion is represented, it excludes other religions and non-religious people. That’s half the problem. No matter which religion is shown, it’s only one, and even if all religions were represented, it still wouldn’t represent a city that has non-religious people. 

  • Annie

    The alternative seals demonstrate just why this is such an important (even if considered small by some) cause to support.  I wonder how Christians would respond to the alternative seals and imagine they would say something along the lines of, “Well, that’s absurd and would never happen, as everyone knows this is a Christian nation.”   Good luck in your fight, Joe.  I hope you find some local supporters to help you.

    Mildly off topic, but does anyone know the significance of the oil lamp on the seal?  I’m assuming it has something to do with the oil industry, but it is a comical pairing to have a cross and a genie’s lamp on the same seal.

  • Joe Zamecki

    I like that. Makes sense. I’ve always agreed, literally. Graffiti comes in many forms, and a lot of it is perfectly legal. This kind came from our own city government. 

  • http://www.bullshitexpress.com Izzy

    What’s with the “genie” oil lamp on the crest?  Does Austin support genies?  Or just the three wishes aspect of genism?

  • Joe Zamecki

    Austin is a big college town, and the lamp means knowledge, roughly. To be more accurate, it ought to be a keg. lol

  • kenneth

    This is one of those battles that is technically correct but strategically stupid. Unless Austin or its officials are on record somewhere stating the intent of the symbol to declare the city a “Christian city”, it’s going to be damn hard to convince a court that it rises to establishment of religion. The city will probably argue it just alludes to historical roles of missionaries or something. There are just so many thousands of more substantial church-state violations that it seems a waste of resources. At any rate, the city seal has bigger problems than a cross. As a whole, it looks like something Scientology would have made up for it’s own air force, if it had one….

  • Djlong77

     I take it as the people who founded Austin were christians and that had more meaning in 1839 than it does today. I like to think if Austin was founded by muslim immigrants  170 years ago I would be totally cool with having the crescent moon on there instead. It’s part of the city’s history and culture.
     Another example is the Alamo. It is a church. It is also featured prominently on the top of the city seal of San Antonio… I wouldn’t suggest you try to remove it as it is a hugely important piece of their history and culture.

  • pedronski

    This is really not important. Historically Christmas is a religious celebration of the birth of Christ (for many it still is). But I’m an Atheist and for me Christmas is a great Family holiday where we get together and give loved ones gifts and we also receive gifts. I don’t want to ban Christmas. I don’t care where it came from. What I like is the time we all spend together as a family. I don’t want to change it’s name either. There is no need, how I got here culturally isn’t as important as what it now means to me.

  • Joe Zamecki

    Ah but there’s a logical limit to glorifying history. When in doing so, one would glorify something that we don’t currently want glorified today, there’s a problem. 

    Remember that Texas was one of the Confederate states during the Civil War. Now we wouldn’t tolerate a Confederate flag on our city seal, even though it’s definitely a part of Austin’s history, because it conflicts too much with our current society.  

    It’s the same with the idea that we’re all one religion. That’s not only an outdated idea, we now consider it to be a totally arrogant idea as well. Most of all, it’s not accurate because we know that thousands of non-Christians live in Austin, and are valid citizens. 

    Our state has evolved into a more diverse society than ever before. The cross in the city seal conflicts with that obvious fact.  As we evolve, so should that which represents us. 

  • Joe Zamecki

    This isn’t about Christmas or any holiday or anything people do in their homes. I don’t see the comparison making sense. We’re talking about something the government does. 

  • http://twitter.com/kaileyverse kaileyverse

    A lamp was on my college seal  – it was explained to me that lamps are the traditional symbol of enlightenment and education.  An even stranger juxtaposition with the cross given that meaning.

  • Aly

    Touche, indeed! Good points.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    As I noted in the earlier discussion, the budded cross (also a Druidic symbol, BTW) and wings is a medieval heraldric symbol… in this case, part of the Austin family crest. I think it is quite clear that this was the motivation in designing the seal- not anything overtly Christian. So in principle, I see nothing objectionable about the currently used Austin city seal.

    The other seals you suggest would also be acceptable in principle if a rational, non-religious basis could be demonstrated for their designs (good luck with that, though!)

    I say “in principle” because, as I also noted in the earlier discussion, I don’t know of a practical way to decide if a cross in a city seal is historical or not. It is seldom as obvious as in the case of Austin’s. And that is why, despite the fact that I value cultural history, I think it is probably best to simply remove all such symbols in cases like this.

  • MegaZeusThor

    My quick thoughts on the subject:

    The possible harm in challenging this is that you run into biased Judges and set (bad) precedents. But if not now, when?

    On the side: if you play games, like Risk, or Real Time Strategy computer games, generally the person who wins is aggressive and keeps taking territory. If you’re facing an aggressive opponent, you have to defend against that because left unchallenged they become more and more powerful and it becomes a very long path to reverse it all. (Eventually this nonsense is considered “tradition”.)  

  • Djlong77

     That seems like  false equivalency. The cross and the confederate flag have very different connotations for the majority of people today.
     It also does not follow that somehow non- christians such as myself are not valid citizens because there is a cross on the city seal. Lets say they used a masonic symbol such as a pyramid with an eye in it. Would that mean only masons were valid citizens?
    If you really want the cross gone then I would suggest you get together with an artist, there are plenty in this town, and create a new seal that you think better exemplifies what it means to be “Austin”. If it’s groovy enough who knows the city council may just adopt it. It would be nice to see a creative solution for a change instead of the same old deconstruction of culture.

  • Wert

    Is this cross new to their seal/flag? I kinda doubt it. So the seal will be called historic and then Joe loses.


  • Scott M.

    I’m of the opinion all religious symbols like this need to be opposed no matter how small.  The reason is, if you don’t, the next time something happens you’re always hit with the “well you didn’t oppose it when XXXXX, so what’s the big problem now?” question.

    Here in Roanoke County, Virginia, we’re trying to get the county board of supervisors to stop opening their meetings with sectarian prayers (thank you FFRF!).  One of the “objections” to our objections is “No one has said anything the last 40 years, why is it a problem now?”

    Well, duh!?  If it had been objected to 20 years ago, they would have asked, “No one has said anything during the previous 20 years, why is it a problem now?”.

    The point is, it all has to be challenged, any time, any place it occurs.  Because our supervisors HADN’T been challenged 20 years ago, we face a larger battle today because 40 is better than 20.

    I say rock-on Joe Zamecki!

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    And exactly how is your personal love of Christmas on topic with a government entity keeping a cross on thwir official seal?

  • Michael Malone

    He makes a valid point.  The first amendment of the US constitution states that the government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, so for the city of Austin’s local government to put a religious symbol on it’s seal is a blatant slap in the face to anyone who doesn’t share that particular religions’ ideology.  I know Joe, he’s a great guy, the head of the Austin chapter of Atheists Helping The Homeless, so it’s not like he’s a “godless heathen” or anything, he’s a smart, dedicated, honest family man who is just working towards a better world for people of all religions.  Unfortunately, it usually seems to be the people with no religion that are more accepting of religious people because those religious people are taught that anyone not of their religion is wrong and is the devil incarnate.   Just because we are accepting of their choice of religion, doesn’t mean we have to accept having their religion shoved down our throats, printed on our money, and infecting our justice system and political system.  You can do/be/believe whatever you want, but if I don’t shove my lack of religion in your face, don’t shove your religion in mine.  

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I don’t have strong opinions on this.  I’m inclined to think that these kinds of cases cause damage to atheism, and don’t have sufficient benefit to offset that damage.  The proper time to object to a city seal is at the time when that seal is first adopted.

    As others are saying a cross in not necessarily a religious symbol.  You would have to go back to the intentions of those who originally came up with that city seal to determine intentions.

    I hope we never reach the point where the teaching of arithmetic is banned, because the plus sign looks too much like a cross.

  • MargueriteF

    No one’s talking about banning Christmas here. But the fact that your thoughts instantly jump to “banning Christmas” worries me. I assume you may have seen Christians complaining about the “war on Christmas.” By saying “Happy Holidays,” most of us are just trying to be more inclusive– to avoid offending anyone who celebrates Yule or Hanukkah or other winter holidays– but I don’t think any atheist wants to “ban Christmas.” Most of us are fine with any sort of religious celebration carried out privately. It’s when the government starts observing a particular religious holiday that we need to become concerned. Similarly, no one would have a problem with this seal as a family crest. It’s the fact that it’s representing a city that’s the issue. 

  • viaten

    I agree, but religiously minded people could easily see them going together.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I’d like to add that while I don’t think these alternative seals are particularly useful for evaluating Austin’s current seal, I do think the same test would be excellent for evaluating a newly suggested seal for any city.

  • MisterMaury

    If you are going to pick a battle in Texas, pick it with the ‘One State Under God” license plate that is allowed.  That is ridiculous, as Christians should not be allowed to imply people in this state all believe what they do.

    Any group is allowed to propose a license plate…  If Atheists proposed a “Texas, a State of Non-Believers” or “One State without god” and the state shot it down, that would be a CLEAR violation as they would be allowing one set of beliefs but not another.

    Someone with pull in Texas (e.g. a blog or radio show) needs to make that happen….  I’d buy one (even though I fear my car would get keyed…)

  • phantomreader42

    The reason JD can’t stand the idea of a secular government is that JD’s faith is too pitifully weak to survive without constant enforcement and funding by the government.  Without taxpayer-funded crosses on every available surface, JD wouldn’t be able to remember what religion he’s supposed to be for even five seconds.  He’s dumber than a rock, and he worships his own stupidity. 

  • phantomreader42

     The confederate flag was the banner of traitors who supported slavery, and the rape, murder, and torture of millions. 

    The cross is a torture device used as an excuse to rape, murder, and torture billions. 

  • viaten

    I’d hate to see atheists make any more fuss about this than is called for by how the Christian city members react to it.  I would not like to see atheists over react like when Christians got worked up about the Proctor and Gamble moon and stars logo.  This seems to be one of those border line things.  It’s not an issue if no one brings it up or makes a big deal about it.  But it is somewhat of a legitimate issue if someone does or makes a thing of it.  I’m not sure how it should be handled.

  • Achantrenne

    You address the question to Christians, but what about asking the Atheists about any of the other seals with different religious symbols on it.  You are just singling out the christian for different religious symbols.  It doesn’t bother me, but if an atheist group is going to fuss about a cross, then they should fuss about ALL religious symbols.  Not just the christians and the cross.  Christians are not the only ones to use a cross as their symbol.

  • Achantrenne

    I think challenging the Government and its leaders would be more important than  this.  After all, look at how far the Government has veered off course since its inception.  Historically, just eraning or removing a symbol doesn’t abolish how it came about.  This country was founded on freedom of religion and freedom from GB rule.  But the only religion that seems to be persecuted the most is Christianity.  All other religions are allowed to practice in public places, EXCEPT for christians.  I understand you want to take it out of schools and every public place, BUT, where is the freedom for the christian to practice their beliefs in school or public places?

  • Coyotenose

     Christians can pray in school and in public all they want. Government employees cannot coerce prayer. This is extremely common knowledge.

    Christians control every major organizations and branch of government in the country, and account for @76% of the population. The only “persecution” they experience in the U.S. is being held accountable to the law, and THAT is what they are crying about: being held accountable to the law.

  • Coyotenose

     In the U.S., and for that matter, in most of the world, Cross = Christianity. The exceptions are usually extremely obvious, for instance, The Red Cross. You’re playing word games.

    Secularists object to ALL religious imagery on public property. Nice try at wannabe martyrdom, though.

  • Nox

    Not getting special treatment is not the same thing as being persecuted.

    Individual christians still have the right to practice christianity. You just don’t have the right to have your religion endorsed by the government.

    “Public” in this sense, doesn’t just mean places that are open to the public. It means publicly owned. As in paid for by all of us.

  • Coyotenose

     Google “slippery slope” and “false equivalency”, please.

  • Coyotenose

     You’re allowed to be cool with any imagery on the city seal. According to the U.S. Constitution, the government of Austin is NOT.

  • MargueriteF

    “It doesn’t bother me, but if an atheist group is going to fuss about a cross, then they should fuss about ALL religious symbols.”

    There appears to be something of a dearth of non-Christian religious symbols on city seals and state flags. But somehow I suspect that if someone ever tries to design a city seal with a pentagram or a star and crescent or an ankh on it, the atheists who want to complain will have to stand in line behind the stampede of outraged Christians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    This appears very likely a completely hopeless fight, under one of the utterly fundamental principles of the US legal system: STARE DECISIS. The question has already been brought before the courts — apparently, by American Atheists president Jon Murray, the son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

    I (AmNotALawyer) don’t see ANY hope of this surviving a summary dismissal motion by even a halfway competent attorney — and bringing such a case so clearly already addressed would risk sanctions.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Achantrenne, if you’re a Christian, then just honestly answer the question rather than try to deflect the question to somebody else.   

    I asked the question specifically to Christians because in the previous post about this issue, most of the people who were trying to defend keeping the cross on the seal appeared to be Christians, and in similar incidents around the country, Christians are mainly the ones who defend crosses in their government symbols and on government property, paid for with the taxes of all the citizenry, both Christian and non-Christian.  Very often they’re not embarrassed to overtly claim that their town, county, state or nation, or all of them are somehow intrinsically, essentially, and even officially Christian entities.

    The point is to challenge Christians to see what it would be like if they were
    in someone else’s shoes, and to remind them that
    their religious freedom is only secure as long as
    everyone’s religious freedom is secure. Keeping any
    and all religion out of government, both by implication of its
    symbols and rituals, and by actual law and policy is what protects
    their religious freedom along with everyone else’s.

    Atheists, Christians, and people of any other persuasion are free to respond to either or both of my questions, and I think it’s safe to assume that most of the atheists who find the cross objectionable would also find any of the other religious symbols objectionable as well. This is the primary official symbol of a city that should be eagerly making sure that all of its citizens are welcomed as participants in the community. 

    Regarding your statement, “Christians are not the only ones to use a cross as their symbol,” I haven’t seen very many Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Pagans, Wiccans, or other religious groups use a cross for their symbol. Maybe you mean the Red Cross, where I regularly give blood to save my fellow man…?

  • pedronski

    Okay, forget holidays. How about this one. The English flag is a Cross, the cross of St George. Now no-ones going to run a campaign to get rid of this cross. All I’m saying is that if the seal had always had the cross in it, does it matter how it got there. It’s just a seal. Yes, England is one of those rare countries where Christianity is the official religion and it’s linked to the legal system. Unlike America.But, I’d happily wear St. Georges Cross. I don’t wear it because England is Christian (officially). I wear it for England. Sometimes it is just a cross.

  • MargueriteF

    Again, who’s saying you can’t wear a t-shirt with the English flag? I’d gladly wear it too (I’m not English, but I’m a big “Doctor Who” fan). No one is trying to tell any private citizen what they can do, or what they can wear.  You can wear a t-shirt with a Christian cross on it too, for all I care. Plenty of people do, and I’ve never heard of anyone trying to stop them. But that’s all beside the point. The question here is what *governments* are allowed to do.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Archantrenne, trying this tired, shopworn trope of yours, deliberately confusing publicly-funded government entities and property with “any public place” is transparently disingenuous of you. Your ability to write a basic complete sentence shows that you’re perfectly capable of understanding the difference, but I’ll give you some examples just to be sure:

    You, as a Christian, are completely free to stand on the street corner holding up a sign saying “Jesus saves!” right next to the Muslim guy who is free to stand there with a sign saying “Allah is great!” Neither of you are free to get taxpayer money to make your signs.

    You, as a Christian, are completely free to put a nativity scene on your private property, or your privately owned church property, right next door to the synagogue, where Jews are free to display a menorah and star of David on their private property.  The city, county, state, or federal government is not free to allow such displays on taxpayer-funded government property unless any and all other religious displays or counter-religious displays are allowed as well. Those governments are also not supposed to use taxpayer funds to pay for those displays.

    A Christian child is completely free to pray on the playground alone or with friends just before their math exam, just as free as any Hindu child in the same school is free to do the same. A Christian teacher at that school is completely free to privately pray for strength just before he or she walks into their pain-in-the-neck math class. Teachers, principals, and public, tax-funded personnel are not free to lead students in prayer, because that oversteps their role as public education personnel, and clearly implies the school’s and therefore the government’s endorsement of religion.

    These distinctions are not difficult to grasp. If you continue to pretend that you still don’t get it, just so you can continue your silly Christian-Martyrs-Are-Singled-Out routine, then the only conclusion we can come to is that you are a troll. If so, please take your attention addiction somewhere else.

  • Djlong77

     I’m sure that’s exactly what they were going for.

  • Djlong77

     So then refer back to my earlier mention of the  seal for San Antonio. Should we take the Alamo off of it because it is a church? It seems disrespectful to the cultural heritage that it represents.

  • Djlong77

     The “lonestar” emblem all over everything in Texas from badges to museums is a pentagram. Just sayin’

  • IndyFitz


    Don’t let even the atheist naysayers slow you down.  Like Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Not to insist that Xianity is evil (although when it’s used regularly to justify badness, one can make the argument), but it certainly isn’t sensible, logical, or reasonable — and to ignore the Constitution and keep letting government endorse this religion is not a good thing.  It might sound like something not worth fighting over, or petty, or whatever — but I think every single case like this is absolutely vital for us to fight.  If we just shut up and ignore it, it will just keep pervading society.  It needs to completely go away — whether it’s a cross on a city seal or prayer before a legislative session or creationism taught in schools. Every one of these little fights matters.  Without all those tiny grains of sand, after all, you don’t have a beach.  Keep up the good fight.


  • IndyFitz

     But I assume the Alamo isn’t on the seal to honor Christianity.  I assume it’s there to honor the historical battle that took place there.  Soldiers converted the mission to a fort.  I am not an Alamo historian, but it seems reasonable that the Alamo on the seal has absolutely nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a military battle there.  It is of no comparative value to a Christian cross on a city seal, which clearly commemorates nothing more than someone’s religion.  Again, I’m not an Alamo historian… anyone else have an opinion on this?

  • IndyFitz

     And I think atheists should pursue each and every one of those and have them stricken.  Everything we do will be interpreted as strategically stupid by religious folks; to heck with them.  I don’t think upholding the Constitution and working to get this religious stuff off our seals and out of our legislatures and off our money is stupid at all.  It’s nice to get the BIG victories, but all the little ones add up.  What would be really neat is if the myriad such cases already won could spur laws that can be considered broken if anyone else tries doing it, so we don’t HAVE to chase down all these little things.  After all, a law is passed because of whatever reason, and anyone who breaks that law is fined or jailed or whatever.  It would be nice to simply have law enforcement stop by city hall and write tickets for these sorts of things.  I know, I know; pipe dreams.

  • IndyFitz

     And this is about what the United States can do, not England.  If England had the same Constitution we do, I’m sure atheists would be challenging the English flag.

  • allein

    I was thinking along similar lines (though I am also not a historian). The Alamo is not historically significant *because* it’s a church. It’s a historically significant site for other reasons and happens to have originally been a church.

  • IndyFitz

     Yeah, what Richard said! :-)

  • MargueriteF

    I admit to not knowing a dang thing about Texas. But from Googling, it looked to me like the “official” logo or emblem is a star, and the idea of putting a circle around it is sort of unofficial. Right or wrong? Regardless, I will admit it’s hilarious to see all those pentagram-shaped lone star doodads for sale. I wonder if the Texans realize they’re buying a pagan symbol in large numbers?

  • IndyFitz

    That hardly holds up.  When the seal was created, I’m pretty sure it was virtually 100% Christians making the decision in violation of the Constitution.  Who was supposed to argue it?  The Christians?  And heck, in that time I’m sure most folks barely understood that it was a violation of the Constitution.  Judging from the caliber of Christians I often meet, most of them today can’t seem to understand why it shouldn’t be there.

    It sounds like “If the law was broken, it should have been challenged when it was broken. We shouldn’t try to right the wrong now; just let the wrong stand!”

  • IndyFitz

     How does it work in Texas?  Here in Maine, X number of people must sign a petition saying they’ll purchase a particular custom plate design, and then it goes to the state legislature, which can vote it down (and would, here in Maine, with the legislature we’re unfortunate enough to have right now).  It seems like a good solution to this in every state would be to simply issue license-plate numbers and let people purchase whatever plate designs they want privately! :-)

  • IndyFitz

     Seriously, Achantrenne?  And just how many seals in the U.S. have religious symbols on them that aren’t Christian?  And I’m sure atheists would act just as strongly to remove them no matter the religion.  I think Richard is right — you really DO know better, and are just trolling.  I just can’t believe that even the dumbest person would ACTUALLY believe the stuff you’re saying here.  So enlighten us — are you REALLY that dumb, or are you trolling?  Or is there a third option I haven’t posited?

  • IndyFitz

    While I assume you’re just being funny, just in case anyone reading that takes it seriously: No, it’s a star, symbolizing that it stands alone (unlike the field of stars on the U.S. flag).  Plus, a pentagram shows the line made by drawing the star shape continuously; the lone star emblem is an outline of the five-pointed star.  And I can’t believe I actually just typed all of that. :-)

  • MargueriteF

    If you Google “lone star emblem,” you do in fact find quite a few stars with circles (or ropes) around the edges. I don’t think that’s an “official” emblem, but it is kinda funny, given that Texas seems like the last state where pentagrams would be a popular icon.

  • Djlong77

     So then it becomes a question of historical significance? The Austin seal is the family crest for Stephen F. Austin our city’s namesake and was chosen for this reason not as an overt nod to christian privilege. So wouldn’t that then make the seal historically significant?

  • IndyFitz

     Rope circles around lone stars!  Maybe there are Satanist cowboys in Texas! :-)

  • allein

    We were talking about the historical significance of the items represented on the seal, not the seal itself. I suppose the case could be made for the family-crest-as-city-seal, but then I googled the history of the Austin city seal and found on the site austinlibrary.com this bit: “Why is there a cross in Austin’s city
    seal?The cross (and the wings) were features of the Austin Family
    crest that were incorporated into the city’s seal design. Austin’s city seal was
    designed in 1916 by Ray F. Coyle of San Francisco, who won the nationwide design
    competition.” So the seal is not “the Austin family crest” but only includes one element of it (why the obviously Christian element and not some other piece?).


  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Good for you Joe Z.  I for one think it’s important to deal with theses symbols.  The slippery slope works both ways with secularism, just look at recent changes in Arizona’s legal redefinition of medical science to religiously prevent needed abortions or the ongoing battles over school text books.  There is push back from religion in a big way about the ‘war on religion’ as well so the fight is far from over.   A symbolic victory in Austin seems a good small step to reclaiming a secular state.

  • Djlong77

    Ok latent christian symbolism on our city seal is one thing but you mean to tell me it was designed by a Californian…  I think we should replace that shist :)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    As a Californian, I completely agree with you. A new design is in order. :)

  • Alex

     Same works in martial arts, by the way. If you are aggressive, attack, and move forward, making your opponent constantly defend him/herself, then even if neither fighter is technically winning, the impression of you will be much better than that of your opponent.

  • allein

    I’d offer to design something for you but I’m from New Jersey. Also I have no discernable artistic talent. ;)

  • Alex

    The first of the “remakes” reminded me of another curiosity: the flag of South Carolina prominently features a crescent, which, if a cross is said to be inherently Christian, can just as well be considered a traditional Islamic symbol. I wonder now if there are any arguments from atheist challengers — or, for that matter, Christians from that state. The only thing I could find on Wiki is that the symbolism has long been subject for debate, nothing specific. Any enlightening thoughts on the subject?

  • http://twitter.com/timmeh_foster Tim Foster

    What’s the big deal with a stupid cross on their city’s flag? Nothing. Sorry, but in my opinion this is nothing more than hypersensitive petty righteousness. Come on folks, there are much bigger fish to fry in the atheist struggle to restore reason over religious dogma.

    This may have been an actual big deal if, as a society ,we still actually rallied around our flags, if flags were still a meaningful display of our allegiances and if those symbols placed onto our flags actually reflected something of our beliefs. But unless you LARP, they no longer do. Gratefully, we have moved on.

    I would rather the atheist community stop pretending that flags and seals and “in god we trust” on our money is causing some kind of anguish and repression and focus on banishing intelligent design from classrooms forever. Focus on fighting end of days religious fundamentalism in politics from gutting our environmental protections. Focus on anything but this pointless shame-on-you finger wagging.

    I am atheist and I find this sort of petty litigation divisive and a waste of resources. 

  • eonL5

    And that cross is nothing but a religious symbol of Christianity. How can you possibly infer otherwise? 

  • eonL5

    And while the Red Cross does have its two “sticks” literally crossing at the middle, its form is a plus sign, symbol of medical aid, not an ancient torture device with the horizontal bar at the height of a human’s arms. Big difference.

  • Rwlawoffice

     To answer your question specifically Richard, if the family crest of Stephen F. Austin was the crescent moon or the wiccan symbol, it would have the same historical significance as this cross and it would not bother me. 

    But that is not why this kind of complaint bothers most Christians.  It is not the perceived notion that if it was another religion we would object.  it is because in fights like this, Atheists are attempting to rewrite history and take away the christian heritage of the people who founded the country. The fact is that this country was founded by christian people for the most part and this christian heritage is all through our history.  To say that we have freedom of religion does not mean that religion should be taken out of our history.  

  • sunburned

    I like this.  It requires the observer to disreguard the common /well understood meanings of  a symbol in order construct a historical context before determining if the symbol itself is appropriate for use in it’s current context. 

    Symbols no longer represents an idea, process or physical entity but a historically dependent context for their meanings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    But Establishment Clause cases are adjudicated through the eyes of the “reasonable observer,” a fictional person who understands everything about the history of the display being challenged. If the unobtrusive crosses here are historical medieval heraldic symbols taken from the Austin family crest, I would consider this to be a sufficiently secular basis for upholding the seal as-is. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    The flag of the State of Hawaii has the Union Jack in its canton. Therefore, it has the cross of Saint George and all those other crosses in it too. Is this unconstitutional?

  • IndyFitz

     Absolutely.  Every religious
    symbol on every seal or flag or whatnot in the U.S. should be
    removed.  Just as every government attempt to prevent us from
    freely practicing any religion (or no religion), to stifle our
    freedom of speech, to stifle the press, to bar the bearing of
    arms, to force us to quarter troops, to deny us due process, and
    so on, should absolutely be fought.  Just because something
    seems unpopular or even silly doesn’t mean it’s right and
    doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

    Regarding Hawaii:
    Even if there were no religious implications, the idea that a
    U.S. state flies a flag with the Union Jack as part of it seems
    bizarre to begin with.  It seems sort of like a state having
    “God Save the Queen” as its official state song.)

    It always amuses
    me how British folks lecture about how religious a nation the
    U.S. is — yet has three religious symbols on its flag.  We
    fight to remove such things from our flags and seals and money
    and such, but the allegedly more-atheist England has an
    established official church.  Seems weird.

  • Coyotenose

    Hey, let’s try another variation. What if the city seal had never had a cross on it at all, but during a redesign, the city voted to add a cross “in honor of the Austin Family’s crest”?  A few people have basically answered this already, but to everyone else of the “this is a petty thing” or “Heritage is not Religion” bents: what would your opinion be?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    Fortunately the courts do not take such a hardened approach. There are some contexts where the government can make reference to a religious icon provided that there is a secular context for it.

    Considering the explanation of the history of the cross in this seal, I would say that it is constitutional. I also find it absurd to think that the Hawaii state flag would be considered unconstitutional. The use of the Union Jack has no conceivable purpose, intentional or not, of advancing the Christian religion or being otherwise associated with Christianity. Whether or not a U.S. state should have the Union Jack in its flag is a matter of policy preference, not constitutionality.

  • Coyotenose

     But a “reasonable observer” would also be aware of the history and other context of religious symbolism in this country and of the intended nature of government institutions. And as an extremely important consequence of such, the RO is aware of how *other people without his or her knowledge* view the imagery.

  • IndyFitz

     I’d say UNFORTUNATELY the courts do not take such a hardened approach.

    If there is no religious purpose behind it, I might be inclined to agree. It’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t some religious purpose, since it was clearly established as a homage to the prior British rule, and I’m guessing everyone was absolutely aware what those crosses stood for.

    And since the original natives there weren’t Christian, but the Europeans who moved in were, I have a funny feeling religion was indeed part of the mix when the Union Jack was incorporated into the flag.

    You can claim “policy preference” if you like, but that doesn’t also make it a constitutional issue, which it is.

  • sunburned

    The thing about playing the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon is that you still end up with Kevin Bacon at the end.

    The cross isn’t an exclusive medieval heraldic symbol, it as a symbol used in it.  It doesn’t magically remove it’s meaning.

    Not too mention a GIS for “Austin Family Crest” yields results that seem to be bereft of the of the cross wing thing-a-ma-bob.  I find it hard to believe a reasonable observer, someone driving by a police car would fail to make a connection that GIS is incapable of making.

  • Anon

    I think there is a difference between acknowledging that this country was founded by (mostly) Christians, albeit ones who had the centuries of pointless religious warfare in Europe fresh in their minds and did not want a repeat of that here, and advocating that we forcibly cart the children off to Jesus Camp because everyone should be Christian. The problem begins when those advocating for the cross in the logo don’t actually see it that way as well. Religion has the unfortunate habit of offering itself as the most moral and righteous way one can conduct oneself. Go figure then that those who subscribe to it then have difficulty in understanding why anyone could then try and guide society not using the only perfect path to morality and justice available. From the religious person’s standpoint, the secular advocate is, well, wrong, and to reconsider that path of thinking is some level of blasphemy. So what if people assume that Austin is a Christian city. In a perfect world, would not every city be a Christian city? Pile on religion’s tendency to actively encourage conversion and well… there you go. I don’t believe the on going struggle between secular America and religious America can ever 

    As a fellow member of one of the most generally reviled groups of people
    in the United States, I must admit that I find myself flinching
    whenever it seems like an atheist is going after a small issue such as
    this that only serves to further the dismissal of us as spiteful, superficial, petty
    jerks. This allows the narrative, which the FRC just recently declared
    again, that there is a war on religion to continue. I live in an area where being openly atheist would be disastrous socially (and perhaps dangerous as well, really) so I might be a bit more sensitive towards the what the backlash of openly standing up for something like what Joe Zamecki did. I realize, after some thought though, that perhaps Zamecki deserves more of my support than I was originally willing to give exactly because such a pervasive aura of  fear for non-theists and non-Christians is allowed to exist in certain areas. I wouldn’t say I’m convinced yet to align myself with the “no crosses allowed in the public sphere ever” camp yet,(the 9/11 memorial cross was, like it or not, a part of the history of the events surrounding the attack), but I do think this article makes a good point. I’m not inclined to entertain slippery slope arguments, but I do think religion in politics is a very harmful thing for those who aren’t a part of the religion in power. It is easy to feel like a second class citizen and that your government doesn’t represent you or have your best interests at heart. Any Palestinian living in Israel can tell you that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    The “policy preference” is regarding whether or not it is appropriate for a state flag to include the flag of a foreign country. The Constitution doesn’t prohibit this.

    You can argue what the law *should* be, but the fact of the matter is that the law simply does not reflect most atheists’ views on the Establishment Clause (as well as most evangelical Christians’ views either).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    The “reasonable observer” knows absolutely everything about the display in question. Courts must be deferential to the decisions made by the people’s democratically elected representatives, being very careful when striking such actions down. The reasonable observer test allows the court to look at the display in question through the eyes most favorable to the government.

    If the historical explanation of the Austin family crest is true, then this would probably be a sufficient basis for upholding the cross in the seal. The court would seek out such historical facts from the parties in their briefs or perhaps order a trial to establish a factual record.

  • http://twitter.com/timmeh_foster Tim Foster

    IndyFitz, if you wish to have your arguments thoughtfully considered, you must not rely on careless speculation on verifiably false statements. You can do better.

  • phantomreader42

     As usual, Rwlawoffice is lying through its teeth.  Asking your cult to OBEY THE FUCKING LAW is not “rewriting history”.  But thanks for admitting that christian faith is too pitifully weak to survive without your idols plastered all over public property to remind you of that imaginary friend you’re too stupid and lazy to remember when it’s the slightest bit inconvenient.

  • phantomreader42

    Achantrenne is not capable of honestly answering this question or any other.  Its only reason for living is to spew idiotic lies.  

  • phantomreader42

     But how could christians possibly figure out how to pray on their own without being ordered to by a government official? 

  • Rwlawoffice

    Honestly do you even know what the word lie means? It does not mean having a different opinion or a disagreement. I understand that you liberals like to change the meaning of words to suit you but it does get tiresome.

    Additionally Einstein, asking for a city symbol to be changed when that symbol reflects the history of the city just because it has a religious connotation is changing history. Im sorry you regret living in a country that has a rich Christian heritage but you do. You can’t simply try to get rid of that because you are bitter.

  • phantomreader42

    You constantly misrepresent anything anyone says, then whine that you’re justified in doing so because they’re a “liberal” (one of many words you don’t know the meaning of).  You are a bearing false witness.  I would point out that the imaginary god you pretend to worship is supposed to have some sort of problem with that, but of course I know better than to expect some right-wing loudmouth sociopathic christianist to follow christian teachings if doing so would be the least bit inconvenient. 

     This country also has a rich heritage of slavery and genocide.  I consider those roughly as worthy of celebrating as the christian heritage.  And I find that sacks of shit like you are eager to lie about all three. 

  • phantomreader42

    …because apparently christians’ faith is too fragile to celebrate their holidays without government-funded christian idols on every available surface?

  • sunburned

     The “reasonable observer” knows absolutely everything about the display in question.

    I think your mixing things up a bit.  The actual standard is a *Reasonable and well informed observer*.  It applies in determining if the expression in question  would be understood it to be government speech.

    Unlike roadside crosses,  and temporary donated municipal displays…It is the CITY SEAL.  see Pleasant Grove City vs. Summum.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Lol. You should really take to heart the advice from Lincoln- better to stay quiet and be thought of as a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Add some cuss words and your post covers all the bases of one that has no real content to add to the discussion .

  • IndyFitz

     I never claimed the Constitution
    prohibited having a foreign flag in a state flag.  I merely indicated I
    thought it made no sense.

    We can agree to disagree on the other issue.  I feel that including a
    religious symbol on a government-designed and -sanctioned flag
    absolutely falls under the realm of establishing a religion.  That isn’t
    what the law should be; it’s what the law is.  You’re free to feel otherwise.

  • IndyFitz

     Tim — no, I can’t do better.  This is as good as it gets.  To better, I’d have to care more deeply about the discussion. However, as long as you’re claiming I’m relying on careless speculation on verifiably false statements, you COULD correct the record instead of making cryptic comments.  I wait on the edge of my seat for you to properly school me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    You are thinking of another test. To quote Pleasant Grove City v. Summum: ” This reasonable observer test for governmental character is of a piece with the one for spotting forbidden governmental endorsement of religion in the Establishment Clause cases.”

    They are similar tests, but serve different purposes. Here, it is no question that the Austin City Seal constitutes government speech. The “reasonable observer” test in regards to Establishment Clause violations comes from Capitol Square Review and Advisory Blvd. v. Pinette, stating “In this context, the “reasonable observer” is the personification of a community ideal of reasonable behavior, determined by the collective social judgment, whose knowledge is not limited to information gleaned from viewing the challenged display, but extends to the general history of the place in which the display appears.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    It depends on context. The use of the Union Jack in this instance is so ubiquitous and so far removed from its original meaning that it does not amount to anything respecting a government establishment of religion. “Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause” Van Ordenv. Perry (plurality opinion).

  • sunburned

    Actually in Capitol Square Review and Advisory Blvd. v. Pinette they clearly state that a reasonable observer wouldn’t confuse the KKK’s cross display with government endorsement of religion.

    The same standard as cited above in Summum.


  • IndyFitz

    Since that 5-4 decision actually decided that:

    “I AM the LORD thy God.Thou shalt have no other gods before me.Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…”

    …somehow is all secular, I think that decision is hardly conclusive of what is right and just.  And in this case, they were talking about a monument given to the state — not a religious emblem on a flag established by the state.

    Regardless, the court was in error with this decision.  Justice Stevens’ dissent — on a 5-4 ruling — seems pretty strong in asserting that the clear establishment of Judeo-Christian ideals is a clear violation.  Just because a SCOTUS ruling is there doesn’t make it right.  Ask pro-lifers their opinion on Roe v. Wade and see how well they agree.  Ask anti-Obamacare folks what they think of the 5-4 decision upholding Obamacare and see what they think.

    Consider that, the very same day, SCOTUS handed down a decision on a similar case about the Ten Commandments on two county properties in Kentucky — and ruled 5-4 AGAINST those.  Justice Souter claimed those were “undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths.”

    Cases argued the same day, opinions delivered the same day, all by the same court, with one swing voter making the difference in each?  SCOTUS is hardly perfect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    Your confusing forum analysis with Establishment Clause analysis. Both Capitol Square and Summum posed forum analysis questions, the former under the Establishment Clause and the latter under the Free Speech Clause. The cross in Pinette would not have violated the Establishment Clause (as the government had claimed in denying the permit to put it up) because the reasonable observer, knowing everything about the cross, would know that it was erected by a private party as part of a limited public forum whereby all other groups were allowed to put up a symbol.

    Summum posed the reverse question and under the Establishment Clause. A member of the Summum religion wanted to put up a religious monument in a public park with a 10 Commandments monument. He was denied and sued on free speech grounds. The Supreme Court ruled (unanimously) that the government was not operating a limited public forum and that the 10 Commandments monument constituted government speech. The Summum member could not force the government to engage in speech by requiring it to put up his permanent display as well. Whether or not the 10 Commandments monument, as government speech, violated the Establishment Clause was not a point raised by the suit.

  • sunburned

     Both cases used the reasonable observer status to disambiguate who generated the speech in question.

    Not the content of the speech.  There is no ambiguity that the City Seal is anything but speech attributed to the city/government.

    All the mythical resources of a super empowered reasonable observer are used to determine who is exactly speaking.  The history behind the seal doesn’t magically make it someone else’s speech.