Unveiled in December 2011 but not yet officially adopted, the logo was blasted by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation as implying Steubenville is a “theocracy” because the distinctive cross atop the Catholic university’s Christ the King Chapel was included alongside several architectural silhouettes, including Historic Fort Steuben and the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The foundation’s Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Steubenville Herald-Star that “the logo communicates the idea that Steubenville is a theocracy and is a Christian city where non-Christians or non-believers are not favored citizens.”
“We were contacted by a citizen of Steubenville, because this is clearly an unconstitutional issue,” she said.
When the city council announced on July 24 that it had agreed to replace the image with a non-religious representation of the college—out of fear of incurring burdensome legal fees—locals expressed frustration.
“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,” said local businessman Mark Nelson, who helped design the logo.
Franciscan University’s vice president of advancement, Michael Hernon, objected that the staunchly Catholic school is an integral part of the community.
“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. “We are a faith-based organization and we are not ashamed of who we are.”
Hernon noted that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is the same group that has launched attacks against public Nativity scenes.
“The Constitution of the United States states freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, as this Wisconsin group would like everyone to believe,” he said. “They certainly don’t understand the values of our community.”
Following at least two petition drives, one with 300 signatures by Knights of Columbus St. John Newmann Council, and an online petition with nearly 650 signatures as of Friday afternoon, the logo change has been put on hold.
Two local attorneys have also offered to defend the city pro bono.
“What is at stake is religious freedom,” local businessman Chris Wendt, author of the online petition, told the Catholic News Agency on Wednesday.
Catholic activists say such discrimination against their faith is all too common.
“Nothing scares atheists more than religion, and no religion scares them more than Catholicism,” said the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue in a statement on August 2.