The Cross Must be Removed from the 131-Year-Old City Seal of DeLand, Florida

This is the city seal of DeLand, Florida:

There’s a heart, an anchor, and a cross. One of those is a problem. But until now, no one has ever taken serious action on it.

Acting on a complaint from a local resident, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to city officials late last month asking them to reconsider their seal because of it’s endorsement of Christianity. They haven’t received a response yet, but the media and Christian Right are flipping out:

“This seal is part of the very founding seal of the city of DeLand. It’s 131 years old,” says Staver. “No one has ever complained for 131 years until the Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed this letter.”

“And if it does [reflect Christianity], it still doesn’t matter from a constitutional standpoint. It’s been in existence for 131 years,” says Staver. “You would obviously think that if it’s an establishment of religion, it surely would have established one by now. And I know of no established religion in the city of Deland.”

That’s precisely the sort of thing that could be said only by someone who’s in the majority and intends to keep it that way.

Staver’s argument is about as weak as can be — “It’s always been this way, so it must always be this way!”

We know, though, that when there’s a Constitutional wrong, it must be fixed no matter how long it’s been going on, and courts tend to agree. (By way of example, the religious mural that Jessica Ahlquist fought against was up for 50 years before it was taken down, and her critics also cited “tradition” as a reason to keep it up.)

When you look at the DeLand seal, it’s obvious that it features a Christian cross. It’s one of those things you might not notice unless you’re not Christian. It’s a seal that suggests non-Christians aren’t really part of this community. That’s what Americans United is trying to change.

AU isn’t anti-Christian. They’re pro-neutrality.

And in Staver’s world, if the government isn’t promoting his faith, it is automatically against his faith.

If the DeLand officials are smart, they’ll make the change without delay and save the taxpayers money that will inevitably go down the drain by fighting this.

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.

  • Bitter Lizard

    I’d be less interested in telling them to take it down and more interested in telling them where they can put it. But that’s just me.

  • ShoeUnited

    Nothing this old is going away without a costly lawsuit. This is just the kind of thing that’ll be fought tooth and nail. Possibly up to a supreme court level.

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    It’s like that South Park episode where the Flag was racist but the town didnt want to change it because of tradition…

  • Jim Washburn

    its endorsement

  • Philo Vaihinger

    You don’t think that maybe this is overdoing the secularism thing? A little too much like the Taliban blowing up giant statues of the Buddha?

    • Sven2547

      A little too much like the Taliban blowing up giant statues of the Buddha?

      This is a ridiculous comparison, in more ways than one.

    • Hat Stealer

      No.

    • guest

      I agree with your first point, but not the second one, although if it was an atheist who blew up that other cross then yes, some secularists are getting dangerously close to it.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      A little too much like the Taliban blowing up giant statues of the Buddha?

      No, but I have to ask: what have you been smoking?

    • David Kopp

      Private property and government logos are two very separate things. The logo is not going to be lost as a result of this, it will simply be an artifact of history now, as it should be. The Buddha’s were historical relics. If someone were asking for the destruction of all documents and references to this seal, that’d be one thing. But moving to a less exclusionary symbol going forward? Nowhere near comparable.

    • God’s Starship

      I don’t normally downvote, but that comparison was just too stupid not to get one.

    • Matt D

      Actually, I’d say equating complaints to get religion out of the government with terrorism, is overdoing it.

    • Guest

      Your prevarication and libel by insinuation are noted.

  • Mick

    And in Staver’s world, if the government isn’t promoting his faith, it is automatically against his faith.

    They’ve been selling that story for 2,000 years. As one of the early leaders of the cult is recorded to have said, “If you’re not with me you’re against me.” (Matthew 12:30)

  • Katamidetroit

    Former Catholic here. I could be wrong here, but… those 3 symbols are Faith (cross), Hope (anchor) and Charity (heart). So, taken separately, 2 of the 3 are secular, but in actuality, they are tied together like a big, fat, Pauline BLT sandwich. (I think the quote is from Corinthians? “Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these…”) I wonder if no one involved (the people protesting as well as the panty-bunchers) get the larger symbolism?

    • ShoeUnited

      Ah yes. “Faith, hop, and love but the greatest of these is hop.”
      But only if you had a misprint 1 Corinth 13:13

      http://reddwarf.wikia.com/wiki/Seventh_Day_Advent_Hoppists

      • Amor DeCosmos

        Maybe Jesus is a hologram?

      • Jonas

        Hop on Pop. — The new new new new Testament from Dr. Seuss

  • guest

    I kind of agree with the Christians here. It’s not establishing a religion, it’s just a picture of a cross. They might be right according to the letter of the law, but surely not the spirit of it. You’d think it was more about people not being compelled to worship or give money to a church, not about harmless decorations.
    Of all the things you could spend time and money on, this is what you pick, seriously?

    Half the flags of Europe have crosses on them. I guess they’ll all have to change too, in our glorious secular future.
    Or maybe a symbol only has power if you invest some in it.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      It’s a matter of what’s associated with the cross. Most flags including one aren’t associated with Christianity, though the cross in this seal certainly is.

      • David Pearce

        Actually, I think most of those European crosses are closely associated with Christianity – the Union Jack is a triple whammy of the cross of St George, the cross of St Andrew, and the cross of St Patrick. The Georgian cross also has the cross of St George, with 4 Bolnisi crosses (also of religious origin/significance). The St George cross often flies over Anglican churches in the UK. That said, the UK has no First Amendment, and Anglicism is the established religion, to the point that there are laws barring Catholics from ascending the throne and becoming head of the Church of England.

        • Buckley

          You beat me to it. The point you make is a good one and needs to be emphasized: great that their symbols are religious in nature, I don’t live there, I live here and I have the ability to change the religious symbolism in the US. That being said , I much rather live with my English cousins, but hey, that’s just me.

    • Bitter Lizard

      I think the atheist movement would do well to focus more on honor killings, gay beatings, burning children as witches, and the billion other horrible things done because of religion, instead of sometimes giving the impression that all it cares about are monuments and stuff. But these little skirmishes matter because they help create legal precedent against the large percentage of Christians who really do want to enforce a kind of theocracy. As for the Europe flags with crosses on them–you do realize that the First Amendment is a US thing that not all countries have, right?

    • Blacksheep

      “They might be right according to the letter of the law, but surely not the spirit of it.”

      If anything, it’s the reverse. The letter of the law says that “the government shall make no laws regarding the establishment of religion…”

      If we followed the letter, the cross would be fine.

      You’re right – all opf the Scandinavian flags, for example, are crosses – and those countries are very secular.

      • David Pearce

        The countries might be secular, but the Scandanavian flag pattern repeated throughout many parts of Scandanavia and northern Europe with different colours is heavily religious in origin and significance, with the original Danish Dannebrog on which all the others are modelled allegedly falling from heaven to a Danish commander and serving as a sign of god’s favour and an inspiration for victory in a critical battle.

    • Librepensadora

      If the cross were a ‘harmless decoration’ instead of a symbol of Christianity, you would not have the Red Crescent replacing the Red Cross in Muslim countries.

  • God’s Starship

    So nothing is wrong in this world as long as you get away with it long enough.

    • Buckley

      Re: See the US Civil War

  • Matt D

    I’m guessing that as long as we have a voice, they’ll be “flipping out”.

  • Oranje

    It’s way out of proportion, too. The perspective is all wrong. I mean, Jesus would have needed little T-rex arms to be crucified on that.

  • rwlawoffice

    So San Antonio is named after a Catholic saint. Should it change its name? This is really silly on the part of American’s United and the response was correct- If the intent of the city was to establish a religion by virtue of this symbol, it would have happened long ago. Just like “In God we Trust” on our money or “Under God” in our pledge doesn’t establish a religion, neither does this symbol.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      Really? Then why are Christians constantly pointing to the fact that “In God we trust,” and “Under God” as proof that we are a ‘Christian Nation.” If it is not establishing religion why do they throw hissy fits at the mere mention of removing those to clauses?

      • Matt D

        If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because they aren’t…

        *drumroll*

        True Xtians!

      • rwlawoffice

        I believe that it is appropriate to say that these phrases on our money and in our pledge are a reference to our history and the role faith has placed in our history, it is not an establishment of religion, This is patriotic and ceremonial as the Supreme court and other courts have said.

    • ShoeUnited

      If there’s no issue with it being establishing a religion, then there’s no issue removing them.

      You can’t have it both ways.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      ignore my double comment

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      It’s very sad that you’re so stupid as to think that you have a better understanding of Constitutional Law than the people who actually study it and create case law. But one wouldn’t expect better from a man so stupid as to argue that firearms dealers are responsible for crimes committed with their wares.

      • rwlawoffice

        You crack me up

  • NewEnglandBob

    ““This seal is part of the very founding seal of the city of DeLand. It’s 131 years old…”

    I guess according to this ignorant person, we should still have slavery because it existed for 150 years.

  • Croquet_Player

    Some people just have to learn things the hard (expensive) way every time, don’t they?

  • A3Kr0n

    I wouldn’t mind if they re-shaped it into a pirate sword. You know what’s a week from tomorrow, right? Arrr arrr!

    • busterggi

      Shiver me booties, my second favorite holiday of the year!

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    There’s one on the Virginia Beach seal too, representing the Cape Henry cross that was supposedly erected by the first European settlers before they went to Jamestown:

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

    Not sure how I feel about it, personally. I suppose I’m used to it– I’ve been seeing it all my life. I’m not sure that’s a terribly good justification for it, though, particularly when it’s on Mount Trashmore (seriously) along I-264 and tourists see it as they drive to the oceanfront.

  • Matthew Baker

    It looks more like a sailor tattoo than a city seal

    • CarysBirch

      Yeah I was thinking DeLand should be relieved to get rid of it, as it’s extraordinarily ugly.

  • Guest

    Why do so many modern atheists strive to make Fred Phelps seem balanced and reasonable by comparison? Is it because deep down atheists know their lives are meaningless and once the world ends the fact that they ever existed is entirely pointless? Of course most atheists will be worm food and forgotten about long before. So it must be something like that.

    • Justin

      So…when’s the last time you saw an atheist at a Christian funeral informing the grieving relatives that their son is now worm food and nothing but a memory while yelling profanities and slurs every other word? Oh right, never.

      • Guest

        The difference is clear ducky. To go to a Christian funeral and say they are worm food is to take the moment of grieving and try to inject your counter belief claim about eternal destinies. Obnoxious and rude to be sure. But this is what atheists believe. I’m often shocked at how offended and defensive atheists are when you point out the obvious ramifications of their world view. Everything is, in the ultimate long run, pointless. Your existence. Your being. All being. All existence. It’s all doomed and ultimately pointless. Oblivion is what awaits everything, and nothing more. That’s what atheists believe. If you’re offended by that, you better rethink your atheism.

        • ShoeUnited

          We create meaning in our lives. Are you so meaningless in the universe that you need justification from an outside source?

          • Guest

            Exactly. You create meaning. A completely subjective, ultimately pointless thing with no more bearing than a person’s favorite color or pizza topping. And probably less valuable. When you die, your meaning dies with you. You are then forgotten about, and your life gives nothing to the future. A generation or so maybe, or if you’re great, centuries. But then the world eventually ends and it’s all for nothing. That’s the fact, Jack. At least from the POV of atheism.

            • Justin

              Meaning is always subjective. As I pointed out above, even your God is meaningless. He simply exists without reason or purpose. Yet Christians insist that he is the ‘happiest’ being in existence, despite the fact that any meaning he gives himself or others would be, as you said, subjective by definition.

              And simply because our lives will culminate in our permanent end doesn’t make life ‘pointless’. It doesn’t change how we feel while we exist. It doesn’t stop us from enjoying everything reality offers to us in the brief moment we were here.

              You might see that as hopeless, and for those who depend on some idea of an afterlife for fulfillment it might be. But for atheists? The inevitable ending makes life more beautiful and infinitely more precious.

            • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

              If the creation of a meaning through a long and rewarding life, is meaningless and utterly pointless, then I hope to have a meaningless and pointless life.

        • Kevin_Of_Bangor

          ….

          • Guest

            Cute cat.

        • Justin

          You didn’t get my point at all did you? You said modern atheists made ‘Phelps look balanced’. I merely pointed out that your without evidence whatsoever, since modern atheists don’t do half the crap he and his ilk do, like protesting funerals.

          Also, allow me to enlighten you. Supposedly your God simply exists. He has no meaning or reason for his existence. His existence is pointless. So how can a pointless being give purpose to anyone?

          As an atheist, I can acknowledge that I simply am. That there is no grand plan behind my existence. And I’m perfectly fine with that, because I can make my own purpose. So what if I die and cease to be? Death is merely the permanent cessation of consciousness. You get a taste of it every time you fall asleep and lose all awareness. Why fear it?

          • Guest

            Oh, I get it. Don’t get me started on Phelps. The good thing is, 99.99% of the global religious community can’t stand the man any more than atheists. The problem with atheists, though, is that the above post and the general attitudes seen in reactions to my obvious points is far too common, and far too often the norm.

            • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

              So you causally insult atheists by saying that they are like Phelps. We tell you that you have no proof, and that you are lying. Then you tell us that we live pointless and meaningless lives. We tell you that your definition of meaning is flawed. And then you get all pissy at atheists, and say it’s our fault for not playing nice.

        • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

          You are an idiot. I am worm food. My parents will be worm food. And you will be worm food. And I will gladly argue it with anyone. However, I know the time and place. Funerals are not the right time, nor place. They are a time to mourn and remember. Atheist have something call empathy. We understand how other people feel and act accordingly. Would you go to a jew’s funeral and tell everyone that the person is now burning in hell? That is the ramifications of your world view. But I would assume that 1) you have some human fucking decency, or 2) lack all decency, but be such a social outcast that you are never invited to a funeral.

        • Oswald Carnes

          Fuck you and the clumsy whore your “savior” crawled out of.

    • God’s Starship

      We love you back.

      • Guest

        I hope so. So what’s not to love. It’s what atheists believe. Again, I’m always shocked at how atheists seem so bothered for pointing out the obvious ramifications of what atheism proposes.

        • God’s Starship

          Uh huh. Fantastic. Really. Look… I love the folk who drop by for no other reason to insult as much as everybody else. But I have to ask, are you going to make an argument for or against this City Seal or American’s United’s actions? Because if you aren’t going to tie it into the topic it’s just generic trolling and a bit boring. Put some effort into it, brother. Let’s see that imagination at work.

          • Guest

            I did. I said that this is about atheists doing what they do: attacking religion and doing everything they can to banish it from their sight. Naturally. Because otherwise, atheists would have to take a long, hard look at the implications of their own world view. And as you can see from the reactions to simply pointing out those implications, it’s something atheists don’t appear to enjoy. Hence the obsession with doing things like this. Or the general dour and sour nature of atheism is a natural outgrowth of believing in such a pointless future. In any event, if you want a nation that banishes religion from the public domain, pick a Communist country devoted to doing just that. Otherwise, spend more time unpacking the full load of what atheism entails. How’s that.

            • God’s Starship

              Not very good, I’m afraid. Repeating some variation of “I don’t like atheists because I think they have meaningless lives and I don’t like them” doesn’t address whether or not this city seal is in violation of the establishment clause. You don’t like us, and that’s fine, but you’ve completely failed to weigh in on the topic.

            • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

              Jumping Jesus.

              Look we don’t want to banish religion. You can scream the bible from every damn corner. You can build ten story crosses. You can dress up like Jesus and walk down main street. You can be a flaming Jesus lover all you want. You just can’t use the government resources to promote your religion. There is the public domain, and there is a government domain. You don’t get special access to the government domain.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Poor, poor little ignorant liar. Why do you libel people on behalf of Jesus? Why don’t you love Him enough to be an honest person who lives without hate?

  • Grotoff

    I don’t know. I get the importance of policing the separation of church and state, but shouldn’t we focus on practicality rather than symbolism? No one is suggesting that the seal institutionalizes a pro-navy and anti-army stance with an anchor. This is the kind of bad press that atheists don’t need. We ought to focus on fighting the tax breaks given to religions, invocations at government meetings, and other practical violations.

    • Guest

      Well said.

  • Justin

    Back on topic, who really cares? Frankly, this sort of thing doesn’t do anything good for our image in the public square. Let’s save our nitpicking for more series issues.

    • Brian

      This is about serious as it gets…clear cut separation of church and state.

  • John Bridle

    I think that it’s things like tis that get us atheists in trouble. It’s a meaningless symbol to me, something that some day will disappear. I think we risk winning a battle and losing the war against religion when we make a point to go after things like this, it makes us look petty.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      But it is these smaller infractions that normalize and justify the larger infractions.

  • jdm8

    Nothing’s better than an appeal to tradition. /s

  • David Williamson

    Please be in touch with me if you live, work, or play in the City of DeLand. You can send me a Facebook message or email david@cflfreethought.org

    We are considering how we might convince the Commission to change the city seal. Your name will NOT be released or mentioned–we just want the assistance of those most affected. Thanks!

  • Daniel Rivera

    As an atheist, and as a student of DeLand High, I think that this whole thing is stupid. I don’t like the cross as much as you do, but DeLand is predominantly -for lack of a better word- ghetto. It would take too much money to remove it from all government owned property with the seal on it.

  • NathanExplosion

    Someone photoshop a star and crescent or a star of David or a pentagram onto that seal.

    Putting folks in the position of having to see something from a different perspective might help.

  • DeLandian

    Well I live here…It is not going to change and this little city has enough resources and a local PASSION for our history and its value to all generations living here. Bring the fight, we are ready, make your stand, for all the non values you stand for in your urban hell, and yes bring the fight to small town Florida. There are places you “friendly atheists” won’t get much traction or support. DeLand survives and improves BECAUSE we have faith, hope, and charity…Bring it!

  • DeLandian

    “mahatma” deletes comments he does not agree with..typical.


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