The mayor of Avon Lake, Ohio, agreed to alter a religious message on a city-owned marquee after receiving a complaint from an Americans United chapter.
Mayor Karl Zuber posted the phrase “Remember Christ is in Christmas” on a sign outside city hall on Dec. 15. Zuber asserted that it was just a “good Christmas message.”
Members of AU’s Northeastern Ohio chapter felt differently. They wrote a letter to Zuber reminding him of the First Amendment’s guarantee of church-state separation and pointing out that the sign could be construed as offensive to members of other faiths.
“This is a serious issue because using taxpayer-funded property for the display of an overtly sectarian message is in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” wrote Charles Prevo, chapter president. “In addition, it is insensitive to those who choose not to be Christian, exercising their freedom of religion as it is written into the laws of this nation.”
Zuber resisted at first.
“They just want any type of religion out of government,” Zuber told the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. “I think the government was founded on Christian principles, and I’m a firm believer in those principles.”
Zuber opined that the First Amendment was meant only to bar the creation of a national church, adding, “I don’t think the message was establishing a church for our nation.”
City Council President Greg Zilka and at-large Councilman Martin O’Donnell, as well as the city’s law director, recommended that the sign come down.
“In my opinion, it crossed a line,” Zilka told the Chronicle-Telegram. “I found it inappropriate. There’s no question that a vast majority of people in the community probably felt comfortable with the sign up, but the separation of church tenet allows people to worship as they wish. The Constitution is there to also protect the minority.”
After some discussion, Zuber agreed to alter the sign so that it simply read, “Remember.”