After the publishing of my recent letter to the editor, I found out that the correspondence from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the village of Archbold’s logo and website went to former mayor Jim Wyse, not Jeff Fryman. I apologize for making this factual error.
Please see my correspondence with Mayor Fryman at the end of this post.
Letter submitted on November 23, 2016 to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.
I write in response to the recent Crescent-News article about the Village of Archbold removing Christian references from their website and logo. Contrary to what Mayor Fryman has stated publicly, Archbold did not remove the offending references until they were contacted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). I am a member of the FFRF and I know for a fact that Mayor Fryman was sent several letters about this issue. He chose to ignore the letters until it became likely that FFRF would initiate legal action against the village if they failed to remove the Christian references from their logo and website. Does anyone really believe that Mayor Fryman would make these changes without being forced to do so? I know I don’t.
Mayor Fryman wisely acted, knowing that a failure to do so would result in legal action that would most certainly be decided in the favor of FFRF. In losing, the village of Archbold could be required to pay damages and attorney fees. Perhaps the village’s legal advisors told him that the law is clear: government entities are not permitted to endorse or support sectarian religions. By using Christian imagery in its logo and saying Archbold is a Christian community, Archbold officials are specifically endorsing Christianity. Such endorsements are against the law.
It matters not that most of the residents of Archbold are Christians. The idea that because a community has a religious majority, its government should have the right to endorse and support that particular religion is not only unconstitutional, it’s dangerous. Imagine, for a moment, that the majority of Archbold residents are Muslim. Would an Evangelical/Mennonite minority be okay with the mayor and village council endorsing and supporting Islam? Of course not! Imagine the outrage if the village’s website said Archbold is a Muslim community.
Even more absurd is the notion that communities should govern according to majority rule and that controversial decisions should be decided by putting the issues on the ballot. Let the people, decide! zealots say. Majority rule is mob governance. We elect leaders who we hope will act fairly, justly, and in accordance with the law. And the law is clear on government support and endorsement of religion — it is illegal. If Christians don’t like this, they are free to amend the Constitutions and change the law.
Here’s one of the responses I allude to in this letter:
It was with great distress that I read in the Nov. 17 edition that the Village of Archbold has capitulated to the Freedom from Religion group to remove from the community seal the picture of the church, and Christian community from all signs, letterheads and the village’s seal.
I use the word capitulate because as I read the Bill of Rights and Constitution, nowhere in these documents does it say our nation is to be free from religious expression. Archbold, as a community of American citizens, has the constitutional reaffirmation to call themselves a Christian community, and or place a picture of a house of worship on their seal. And I challenge anyone, up to and including the justices of The Supreme Court of the United States, to show me where in the foundational documents and Constitution they have a right to demand this nation’s citizens, whether singular or a community, give up it’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Nowhere in this document does it sate, “separation of church and state.” This discussion came along much later and was taken from a private conversation and was bastardized by those like the Freedom from Religion group! No court anywhere in the United States has the right to alter the meaning of the First Amendment. No court, not even Congress which has the power to make laws.
So why do the officials in Archbold capitulate to a subversive group such as the Freedom from Religion group, even over the objections of the people of Archbold? At the very least this should have been discussed and then voted on by the people of Archbold. Then the officials of Archbold have the audacity to replace the statement, “A Christian Community” with “A Community with Integrity!”
Sorry, I don’t think so.
Rev. Alvia McEwen Martis (pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Ridgeville Corners, Ohio)
Here’s the press release from the Freedom From Religion Foundation
An Ohio village has removed a religious seal and declaration after objections from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog organization.
The seal of the village of Archbold contained a church at its center, nestled within images of education, farming, forestry and industry. The seal was featured in a number of places, including government buildings, street signs, village forms and documents, such as utility bills, and on the official website. The website also contained on its history page a declaration that Archbold a “Christian community.”
Such a seal and statement were unconstitutional, FFRF informed the village.
“The inclusion of a church on the official village seal and declaration that the village ‘is a Christian community’ violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to Archbold Mayor Jim Wyse last year. “Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause.”
FFRF suggested to the village that changing the seal would make sense in other ways, as well. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are non-Christian, including 43 percent of Millennials, practicing a minority religion or no religion at all. To have a religious seal and declaration alienates and ostracizes this huge portion of the population.
It took a lot of time and three follow-up letters, but FFRF has been able to persuade the village of Archbold. The seal has been changed to remove the cross. (The Christian declaration was removed from the website immediately after FFRF’s first letter.)
FFRF is gratified at its ability to change minds.
“We’re happy that we were finally able to persuade the village,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The church symbol and the declaration of Christian heritage were blatant endorsements of a particular religion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 23,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 600-plus in Ohio.
Here’s a link to the original letter sent to the village of Archbold.
Archold mayor Jeff Fryman contacted me about my letter to the editor. This is what he had to say and my response.
Mr. Gerencser, you don’t know me, but referred to me in a recent letter to the editor. I have been Mayor for only 11 months in Archbold. You made a statement that you know for a “fact” I have received several letters from the FFRF. That statement was totally untrue. I received one that was handed to me by the former mayor and was addressed to him. I never received any correspondence from the FFRF or any member. Furthermore, I was unaware that any other correspondence had ever been received by the Mayor at the time he gave me that letter. It is true that as a group we decided not to respond.
Looking at your background, it’s unfortunate that you would make statements like this regarding my credibility and character when you haven’t done your research. But this is what I have come to know about groups like the FFRF. Little on facts. Big on fear. I think you are better than this.
Respectfully, Jeff Fryman
I based my statement on the reports in the Archbold Buckeye. I was not aware until after I wrote my letter that a different mayor received the FFRF contacts.
The fact remains that you bear the burden of the previous mayor’s actions. I apologize for erring in getting the name of the mayor right. I don’t apologize for challenging your assertion that the logo and website changes were in the works prior to contact with The FFRF. If you can provide evidence to the contrary, I’d love to see it. If these changes were discussed prior to the FFRF contact, surely there are minutes or committee reports that reflect this. If not, I will assume that my statements are correct.
The fact also remains the logo and website violated the law. This matter has been litigated thousands of times over the years. In almost every instance, the courts have sided with those demanding a strict separation between church and state.
As the mayor of Archbold, you represent all its citizens, not just Christians. You are duty bound to maintain the secular nature of government regardless of the religious beliefs of your constituents .
I will attach our discussion here to my blog post on the matter, correcting the mistake I made concerning who received the FFRF correspondence. I will also let the Crescent-News know of the correction.
Instead of taking cheap shots at FFRF, I hope you will consider how breaching the wall of separation of church and state harms our democracy. Having spent my entire life intimately connected to Evangelical Christianity, I know for a fact that if you give theists an inch they will take a mile. FFRF demands may seem petty to you, but better to kill the theocratic baby in the cradle than watch it grow into a monster that demands fealty to the Christian God.
I wish you well. If you feel I have not adequately addressed your objections, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org