By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in City of Edmond v. Robinson, 517 U.S. 1201 (1996), upholding a circuit court ruling in Robinson v. City of Edmond (10th Cir. 1995) that the city seal of Edmond, Oklahoma, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment because one quadrant of it contained a Latin, or Christian, cross.

Lower courts split on whether religious symbols in city seals violate First Amendment

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, in a dissent joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, noted that the federal appeals courts had split on the issue in question.

In Harris v. City of Zion (7th Cir. 1991), the court had found that a city seal with religious symbols violated the establishment clause but in Murray v. City of Austin (5th Cir. 1991), a different circuit court found that another seal did not.

Court denied certiorari to city seal case

Rehnquist therefore argued that Edmond might be appropriate for clarifying the Court’s position on standing, which he thought had been left ambiguous in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (1982).

In particular, he wanted the parties to address the issue of whether individuals could claim injury, and thereby standing, merely on the basis of exposure to a city symbol that offended their religious beliefs.

John Vile is professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2009.

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