The city of Steubenville isn’t very big and not much ever really happens there, but it has its history. Part of that history is Franciscan University of Steubenville. The University is the city’s largest employer and brings thousands of young adults from all over the nation to the city every year – and I was one of those young adults. It is one of Steubenville’s most memorable aspects and no part of the university is more memorable than its iconic chapel, seated at the center of campus. It would only seem natural then, that, in crafting a city logo featuring all of Steubenville’s most celebrated features, Franciscan’s Christ the King Chapel be included.
However, this apparently represented an affront worthy of legal action to a Madison, Wisconsin-based atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., which threatened to file a lawsuit against the city of Steubenville unless Franciscan’s chapel was removed from the logo. Faced with an expensive lawsuit, the city initially agreed to remove the chapel. Here’s the logo that brought on such ire:
Franciscan University reacted to the city’s decision with the following statement (read the full statement here):
“For more than 65 years, Franciscan University of Steubenville has proudly served as an integral part of this community and we were honored to have our chapel included in the new city of Steubenville logo. The city initially included our chapel because it represents Franciscan University, a world-renowned center of higher learning and one of the largest employers in the region. We find it particularly troubling that an out of town and out of touch group targeted the University for removal from the logo solely because of our religious identity.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, however, had already given her ultimatum that, “crosses do not belong on the logos of American cities. We are not a ‘Christian nation’ or a theocracy, but were first among nations to adopt a secular constitution wisely separating religion from government.”
However, now James Bordas Jr., an attorney, has offered to represent the city pro-bono in which case Steubenville might fight to keep its logo after all.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is now warning Steubenville to “not be duped” by such offers of charity. Because, clearly, Christians trying to help the city fight a lawsuit is the real threat to the city and taxpayers and not, say, the threat of a lawsuit itself.
It seems to me, instead, that any organization going by the name, “freedom from religion” should actually be in favor of Steubenville’s logo. Franciscan University did not coerce the city to put a cross in their logo and it in no way is meant to “force religion” on people. Instead, the cross and its chapel represent a key facet in the city’s identity. That should be celebrated because it shows that religious and government bodies can co-exist in peace, not as isolated polar bodies but as brothers co-exist. It shows that we are no Soviet Union or Communist China, that we do not kill or operate forced-labor camps to oppress those of differing views. Instead, it shows that we are free.
So, should Madison, Wisconsin really decide how Steubenville, Ohio presents itself? This isn’t about oppressing non-Christians. This is about heritage, specifically: Steubenville’s heritage – and that’s something over which a group hundreds of miles away in Wisconsin should have no say.