“We really see this as a crime, because we weren’t included because we were a religious institution,” Michael Hernon, vice president of advancement at Franciscan University, told CNSNews.com.
“We’re included because we’re one of the significant members of the community who are contributing over the last 60, 70 years to the economic and cultural likes of the community.”
In December 2011, the city council of Steubenville decided to revamp its town logo. Along with a silhouette of the Franciscan University chapel and cross, the logo included other Steubenville landmarks such as the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Historic Fort Steuben.
Following a complaint from a Steubenville resident, the Freedom from Religion Foundation—which is based in Madison, Wis.—threatened the city council with a lawsuit if the image of the Franciscan chapel and cross wasn’t removed from the logo.
“The inclusion of a Latin cross on the official city logo violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” according to a May 22 letter sent by FFRF to Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci and the City Council.
“The City’s inclusion of the chapel and cross, as it was intended, signals an endorsement of ‘faith’ and Christianity,” the letter said.
The letter also cited a series of court precedents such as Robinson v. City of Edmond and American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Inc. v. City of Stow, that ruled religious symbols on municipal logos were unconstitutional.
The City Council’s recent decision to remove the Franciscan image was hailed by Foundation for Religious Freedom.
“We are very pleased. They acted with alacrity and we appreciate that because the constitution of our nation should get a fast response,” Annie-Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, told CNSNews.com.
“I think they understand the principle involved here and that they were sending the wrong message,” she said.
“I think that this is a very good faith effort to not to endorse faith by the city of Steubenville.”
Hernon stressed that the Franciscan image on the town logo was not an issue of religion, but instead reflects the University’s standing in the Steubenville community.
“We are one of the top employers. We are one of the greatest economic contributors to the community and we’re probably one of the most recognized things maybe outside of Dean Martin in having come from Steubenville,” Hernon told CNSNews.com.
“And so when you look at all those things we were included for those reasons. It’s our chapel, it is a cross and we’re not ashamed of the cross or our faith,” he said.
“And we’re not interested in being a part of something if it’s not correctly identifying who we are.”
However, Gaylor disagrees and the image of a cross and chapel on the city logo is clearly a symbol of faith, and thereby an endorsement of religion by the city of Steubenville.
“I think he [Hernon] has his blinders on. A cross atop a chapel does signify religion,” Gaylor told CNSNews.com.
“If it is truly is so recognizably linked to Franciscan University obviously that bears a Catholic imprint on the logo. It’s fine for the University to use this, I would encourage them to. But not for the city.”
The Steubenville City Council made its decision to remove the Franciscan image on Tuesday. Since the announcement, Hernon said Steubenville residents are calling in to voice their support for Franciscan University
“We’ve gotten a bunch of calls and e-mails, as has the city with people saying, ‘this is part of our community why are we backing down why are we not fighting this,’” Hernon told CNSNews.com.
“So there are definitely some concerns that I’ve heard from citizens as well as other city leaders that they think this is crazy.”
Hernon said he hopes Franciscan University and the city will eventually come to a friendly agreement.
“We’re in conversation with the city and we’re hoping that we might come to a better resolution that they are comfortable with that doesn’t drive religion from the marketplace,” Hernon said.
“This is really a crazy thing -- that an out-of-town and out-of-touch group would threaten and bully the city in this way. It’s really troubling to see this kind of thing happening in this day and age.”