STEUBENVILLE - A petition protesting the removal of a cross and the silhouette of the Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville from the city's unofficial logo will be presented to City Council tonight.
Marshall Myers of the Knights of Columbus St. John Newmann Council said his organization and the parish bereavement committee collected approximately 300 signatures Saturday and Sunday after Masses at St. Peter Catholic Church.
"We feel the logo reflects the historical and cultural parts of the city and is an identification point in our city. We will attend the council meeting and plan to encourage the city leaders to keep the logo intact," said Myers.
"We found a very overwhelmingly positive response to our petition drive that was organized after the City Council agreed to remove the cross and chapel from the logo after an out-of-state foundation threatened to sue the city," said Myers.
City Law Director S. Gary Repella said City Council has put the logo issue on hold after several attorneys contacted his office offering to represent the city pro-bono, or free of charge.
"The City Council has decided to talk to the law firms offering their services," said Repella.
Sixth Ward Councilman David Lalich said council members want to look at the offers from various law firms, "and we will discuss our options."
"I am totally against removing the cross and chapel from the logo. The Franciscan University is a major employer in this city and has brought in 50,000 visitors to the summer conferences. Those visitors spend money in our community," said Lalich.
"But we also have to look at the legal and financial ramifications. We have law firms offering to represent the city on a pro-bono basis, but if we lose the case there could be a significant financial cost to the city," Lalich said.
The logo issue went public at last week's City Council meeting when Repella briefed council members on a threatened lawsuit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc. of Madison, Wis.
A similar letter was faxed last Friday by the Wisconsin organization to city officials in Wyoming, Mich.
"We work four 10-hour days a week and were not in our offices on Friday. The Freedom from Religion Foundation faxed copies of the letter to media outlets prior to sending us the letter. They appear to like the media attention more than solving the problem," Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt told the Herald-Star in a telephone interview.
"Our city attorney is researching case law as well as reviewing offers of free legal representation. Our community has more immediate issues regarding revenue and economic development. We have bigger fish to fry than this one issue. That logo has been the city logo for more than 50 years and we have never had a complaint before," stated Holt.
The Wyoming city seal was adopted in 1959 and contains a church with a cross, a factory, a house and a golf green.
According to a story by Garrett Ellison of MLive.com, "Wyoming, Mich., officials have indicated they were not likely to change their logo unless advised to do so by legal counsel."
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation said the city would be foolish to fight the FFRF in court over changing the Wyoming seal because legal precedent is on their side.
According to Repella, Steubenville officials were contacted in May, "by the Freedom from Religious Foundation Inc. in Madison, Wis., which said one of our citizens had complained about the city 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 laws that do not allow religious symbols in government symbols."
Gaylor said in a telephone interview the logo is a symbol "that Steubenville is a theocracy and is a Christian city where nonChristians or nonbelievers are not favored citizens."
A foundation attorney used similar language in his letter to Wyoming officials.
Gaylor described the Madison, Wis., organization as "a state-church watchdog that citizens can contact to remedy issues."
"We were contacted by a citizen of Steubenville because this is clearly an unconstitutional issue," said Gaylor.
Gaylor told MLive.com her group was contacted by "a concerned citizen who has business in Wyoming."
Gaylor declined to name the complainant in Steubenville or the Michigan city.
"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 nonChristians and violates the Constitution," said Gaylor.