By Erika Webb
Former DeLand Mayor Wiley Nash would have opinions about the recent opposition to the city seal, but they would not be printable, his son Steve Nash said.
The 131-year-old insignia was minding its own business when Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) decided its design violates the Constitution.
The seal's heart, cross and anchor symbolize the principles of faith, hope and charity, and not a particular religion, DeLand officials have maintained.
AU representatives begged to differ, stating in a letter sent to the city Aug. 23: "Together these three images are widely understood to symbolize the Christian 'theological virtues' discussed by Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13:13."
The letter was prompted by a citizen complaint, according to a Sept. 10 post on AU's website by the organization's director of communications Rob Boston.
The non-profit organization gave the city 30 days to respond and called for the removal of the symbols from the seal or discontinuation of its use.
Once word of the letter got out, AU got the email backlash.
"Some of these messages have been pretty crude. I'm always amused by people who begin emails to AU by loudly proclaiming their religiosity and then proceed to unleash a tirade so laced with profanity that it would make Lenny Bruce blush," Mr. Boston stated in his post.
He reported many of the seal's defenders are upset because a group based in Washington, D.C., is trying to tell them what to do.
"We hear this argument a lot at Americans United, so it's worth explaining why it's not at all persuasive," Mr. Boston noted. "First of all, Americans United is acting on a complaint brought by people in the area. These folks believe that it's wrong for the city to use a seal that elevates one religion over others."
Mr. Nash and his wife, Sydney, are Christians. He said before the issue came up he could see the seal in his mind's eye, but he couldn't have relayed exactly what was on it -- and, besides, symbols aren't elevators to the hereafter.
"Personally, we will stand by our conviction that the cross represents salvation that can only be given to those that believe in the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven by Jesus," Mr. Nash said. "If the cross was put into the seal of DeLand simply to add theological flavor, somebody missed the point. One would have to delve into the reason behind the items that make up the seal to understand the icon; I feel relatively sure that it was not motivated by any church group or religious organization."
Founder Henry DeLand wanted to create a town based on culture and education, according to the History of DeLand on the city's website.
And he was known for being charitable.
"Early in life, (Mr.) DeLand had adopted the conviction that if he became a financial success, he would give any money, over and above a set sum for benevolent purposes," the website notes. "Over the years he had prospered and he decided that now was the time to use his profits for the betterment of mankind."
City Attorney Darren Elkind outlined the founding history and the intent behind the seal in his response to AU dated Sept. 9.
"It was fortuitous that the symbol happened to derive from Christianity," Mr. Elkind wrote. "Nothing in the history of the city's seal suggests that it was adopted to promote any particular religion or religion in general."
Citing three U.S. Supreme Court cases involving governmental symbols as well as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous speech about faith, hope and charity -- as each applies practically to governance, Mr. Elkind wrote: "Based on the history and foregoing legal analysis, it is apparent the City of DeLand's Seal does not violate the Establishment Clause."
He pointed to Van Orden v. Perry, in which Thomas Van Orden sued Texas in federal district court, arguing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol building represented an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Mr. Van Orden argued this violated the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from passing laws "respecting an establishment of religion."
The district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Mr. Van Orden and said the monument served a valid secular purpose and would not appear to a reasonable observer to represent a government endorsement of religion, according to oyez.org.
The AU cited cases, too, but Mr. Elkind questions their centrality to the issue.
"The AU didn't cite the most recent and relevant cases. How do you not cite the most recent Supreme Court case and most recent 11th Circuit case on the topic?" Mr. Elkind said.
In King v. Richmond County, Ga., the 11th Circuit Court was confronted with a situation similar to DeLand's when it considered the placement of a sword in a seal with the tablet of the Ten Commandments.
The court determined "although the sword might occasionally serve as a symbol of Christianity, the sword is among the most recognizable symbols of the secular legal system."
Mr. Elkind concluded by saying the city has been flooded with offers of support, legal and financial, from organizations across the country, and that should the AU decide to pursue legal action, the city is willing and more than able to defend the continued use of its seal.
Lest the community feel singled out, it should be noted the Great Seal of the United States of America has come under fire as well.
"The symbols of the Great Seal, which are featured on the dollar bill, are clearly intended to embody the beliefs of those who founded the United States of America. The current design of the Great Seal was approved by Congress on 20 June 1782, and the seal was introduced to the dollar bill in 1935. The continued official use of Masonic symbols today indicates these beliefs remain at the heart of the U.S. establishment," according to insider.org, which investigates conspiracy theories.
Several of the nation's founding fathers are said to have been members of the Masonic fraternity, itself the subject of great debate -- secret religious society or philanthropic brotherhood?
"What is most important in the context of this article is that these are ancient religious symbols which hold special hidden significance, and their use by the American government reveals something about the secret beliefs of those in power," the article stated.
The Latin words Annuit Coeptis on the reverse side of the Great Seal translate to, "God has favored our undertakings," according to www.greatseal.com. The website details the original design process, explains the meanings behind the seal's symbols and reveals the personal convictions of those involved with its creation.
It also analyzes those designs which were discarded, including one by Benjamin Franklin who chose the dramatic historical scene described in Exodus, where people confronted a tyrant in order to gain their freedom.
"Personally I have a lot more things of importance in my life than to fight over some city's seal and on the national level no less," Mr. Nash said. "The Pledge of Allegiance is disappearing, prayer in school is gone, and our monetary system is being looked at as to what is written on coins and bills. What about children going hungry in Volusia County, 3,000 daily? Homeless people? People are dying with cancer, who would love just to be around to see the seal. Who cares what it looks like?"