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Legal threat over logo frustrating for designer

July 26, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - The co-president of the Madison, Wis.-based organization that requested the city change its logo or face legal action said Wednesday she is pleased the city, "is taking responsible action to change the logo."

Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc. said in a telephone interview the logo was a symbol, "that Steubenville is a theocracy and is a Christian city where non-Christians or non-believers are not favored citizens."

She described the organization as, "a state-church watchdog that citizens can contact to remedy issues."

Article Photos

REDESIGNING THE CITY LOGO — Mark Nelson, owner of Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts in Steubenville, looks at one of the T-shirts displaying the logo he designed last year for the city. Nelson is now being asked to redesign a city logo that doesn’t include the cross and Christ the King Chapel on the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus. - Dave Gossett

"We were contacted by a citizen of Steubenville because this is clearly an unconstitutional issue," said Gaylor.

She said she could not identify the complainant unless that person gave the organization permission to do so.

At issue is an image of the Christ the King Chapel on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville that is included in the city's logo, which was unveiled in December.

A foundation press release Wednesday afternoon claimed victory.

"Any claims of historical or cultural significance to the Latin cross on the Steubenville logo do not relieve the city of its constitutional obligations. The City of Steubenville must not endorse 'faith' and church. While we understand that Franciscan University is a part of the city, the city may not depict the university chapel and cross because to do so places the city's imprimatur behind Christianity. This excludes non-Christians and violates the Constitution," said Gaylor.

The foundation press release claimed the organization has 19,000 members nationwide and several members in Steubenville.

"It's so clear why a city cannot and should not send a message that it is has a Christian orientation, thereby making Christian residents favored insiders, and non-Christians, including non-believers, outsiders. Government cannot pick sides on religion. All citizens, whether Christian, Jewish, atheist or agnostic, Muslim or others must be welcomed as full participants, and the only way to do that is to keep religion out of government," Gaylor said.

But local businessman Mark Nelson, who helped design the logo at the city's request, disagreed.

"On a very personal level I find it very frustrating that one person or a small group can complain and ultimately change the city's logo," said Nelson, the owner of Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts.

Nelson said Los Angeles county changed its official seal in 2004 after the American Civil Liberties Union objected to certain symbols in the seal, including a cross.

"We already prepared a new logo without the cross, but I don't know why the Wisconsin organization objected to the silhouette of the Christ the King chapel. The Los Angeles county board of supervisors retained the Mission San Gabriel in its seal. The chapel is part of the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus," said Nelson.

"We designed the logo to represent faith, family, work, recreation and history. But we are willing to work with the city to change the logo if necessary. I will look for suggestions from the community and city leadership and Franciscan University for revisions to the logo," Nelson added.

"What bothers me is this organization has used its interpretation of separation of church and state that is not included in the Constitution to bully the city into changing its logo. My family and I are proud to be here in Steubenville and to be part of the community. We are also proud to have a business in Steubenville," Nelson added.

Michael Hernon, vice president for advancement at the university, said the school, "sees nothing inappropriate with the chapel being included in the city logo."

"We are a major contributor to the city. We are a major employer in the city. And it is kind of shocking to see an out-of-town, out-of-state and out-of-touch organization work to remove a symbol of the university from the city logo," said Hernon.

"The chapel is included in the university logo because it represents who we are. We are a faith-based organization and we are not ashamed of who we are," noted Hernon.

"The Constitution of the United States states freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, as this Wisconsin group would like everyone to believe. They are the same group that wants to prohibit Nativity scenes from public squares. They certainly don't understand the values of our community," stated Hernon.

The university said it would not be a part of the redesigned logo.

"Now that the city has decided not to keep the chapel in its logo, the university has declined the city's offer to be represented by another campus building. The Christ the King Chapel and its cross, which are the centerpiece of the university logo, are internationally recognized symbols of the campus here in Steubenville and are at the heart of our Catholic educational mission. No other campus symbol or architectural feature so immediately identifies the university," Hernon said.

"As used in the city logo, the chapel image is not an endorsement of any one religion, or religion at all. It merely signifies one of the many treasures of Steubenville-along with Historic Fort Steuben, the Veterans Memorial Bridge and the downtown cityscape-that are well-known community landmarks.

"For these reasons, the university has decided not to be included at all in the revised logo rather than to be represented in a way that does not honor our mission as a faith-based institution," Hernon continued.

The logo at the heart of the controversy was initially unveiled at a City Council meeting on Dec. 6 by City Manager Cathy Davison.

"This logo includes the Veterans Memorial Bridge, Historic Fort Steuben, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the clock tower at Hollywood City Center and the phrase suggested by 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich saying, ' The city of Steubenville ... Where you always have a home.' This will be our brand as we move forward in promoting the city," Davison said during the December meeting.

According to Steubenville Law Director S. Gary Repella, the city was contacted by the foundation in May and was told that a citizen had complained about the logo.

"During the past several months, the foundation sent me their research and past case law regarding religious symbols. I researched current case law and found a lot of case law that does not allow religious symbols in government symbols," Repella said.

Repella said fighting the issue could be costly.

"The council realizes the potential cost to our city taxpayers may be very expensive to try to win the case," he added.

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