Some of the good citizens of DeLand, Fla., aren’t very happy with Americans United right now.
Recently, AU attorneys wrote to officials in the town of about 27,000 after we received a complaint about the city seal, which features a prominent cross. The story ended up in the media and has stirred up some of the community’s residents. AU has been on the receiving end of their wrath.
Some of these messages have been pretty crude. I’m always amused by people who begin emails to AU by loudly proclaiming their religiosity and then proceed to unleash a tirade so laced with profanity that it would make Lenny Bruce blush.
Many of the seal’s defenders are upset because a group based in Washington, D.C., is trying to tell them what to do. We hear this argument a lot at Americans United, so it’s worth explaining why it’s not at all persuasive.
First of all, Americans United is acting on a complaint brought by people in the area. These folks believe that it’s wrong for the city to use a seal that elevates one religion over others.
Yes, Americans United is based in Washington. But our attorneys help people all over the country. That’s kind of the point of our organization. It can be difficult for the average person to stand up for his or her rights. The backing of a national organization, which has the expertise, money and resources to fight a battle like this, is essential. (By the way, members and allies of Americans United like you provide that money and support; thank you very much!)
Secondly, we all live under the same constitution in this country. A city in Florida is just as bound by that document as is one in Minnesota, Connecticut or Idaho. In light of that, how does it possibly matter where the attorneys are from? I doubt the cross’ supporters in DeLand would stop carping if we had found a Florida attorney to sign the letter.
Not everyone in town is worked up. We have received expressions of support, and some people are looking at constructive ways to move forward. Pat Rice, editor of the Daytona News-Journal, wrote a column suggesting that it may be time for the city to consider a new seal, one that is inclusive.
Although Rice too complains about “outside meddling,” his conclusion is solid. He calls the flap an “opportunity to develop a new city seal that captures the essence of the city that DeLand has become over the last 131 years. Maybe a new seal could champion the city’s diversity, or its higher education, or its great downtown.”
One more thought about this case: Some people seem to think that AU is stirring things up in DeLand for publicity or to get our name in the media. It’s true that there has been a lot of media attention over this matter, but that’s not AU’s doing.
Americans United’s letter was mailed to city officials on Aug. 23. Our goal was to open a dialogue with them, and we didn’t issue any press statements about it. A few days later, we started getting calls from reporters in the area. Someone in the DeLand city government must have given the letter to the media.
Obviously the matter was going to come to public attention eventually, as it should. But it didn’t have to be this early. At these beginning stages, AU would have preferred to discuss this matter out of the glare of the media spotlight. That didn’t happen because someone in DeLand, not AU, took this to the media.
What will happen next? Americans United wants to keep the dialogue open. We’ve asked city officials to respond within 30 days. We await their reply.