In 1988, the small town of Buhler, Kansas created a town seal to mark the centennial of the community. The seal promotes Buhler’s slogan “traditional values/progressive ideas” with meaningful, iconic symbols, like a stalk of wheat, a math book, and a cross, all representing the traditional, historically-based values of the town. But the Mayor of Buhler, Daniel Friesen, recently announced that the town will soon be redesigning the seal. Why? Because Buhler is fearful of a federal lawsuit.
This threat was not at the prompting of jealous corn farmers. The stalk of wheat can stay. Neither does it emanate from English and History teachers demanding equal treatment for their respective subjects. The math book is safe. The singular objection raised about the town seal is – you guessed it – the cross. An active Atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a menacing letter to town officials demanding removal of the cross on the basis that the seal (with a cross) endorses religion in an unconstitutional way.
The Latin cross is a symbol of the Christian faith. Buhler, however, was not trying to promote Christianity or any other religion by placing that symbol in the seal. The image of the cross exemplifies the origins of this Midwestern town that was settled by Mennonites who fled Russia and sought refuge from religious persecution. They found refuge in Buhler.
Current residents of Buhler are facing a similar dilemma – suffering from a new form of religious persecution – but this time, there is seemingly no refuge. Citing personal frustration, Friesen lamented on the town’s website that a legal defense would be a waste of taxpayer’s money because he believes they would lose in court. They are obliged to trash tradition.
This decision reflects a sad state of affairs in our contemporary jurisprudence. While CRE might not totally agree with the legal assessment, the Mayor is right in believing that legal authorities in his jurisdiction could make the case difficult to defend. But can this result be the vision of our Founding Fathers in adopting the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Surely not. Being subjected to religious prosecution themselves – much like the settlers of Buhler – they knew how vital it was for us to retain our religious freedom and heritage.
So, if you ever find yourself driving among wheat fields in Kansas, and you stumble across Buhler and its town seal projecting wheat and math as the town’s traditional values, remember, there is a crucial part of tradition that’s missing, and that’s Buhler’s ongoing struggle against religious persecution.