STEUBENVILLE - Attorneys representing four law firms will try to persuade city leaders this afternoon to fight the Freedom From Religion Foundation's threat to sue the city over an unofficial logo that contains a cross and a silhouette of the Christ the King Chapel on the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus.
City Law Director S. Gary Repella said 10 law firms initially offered to help the city in a legal fight with the Madison, Wis.-based foundation, and city officials narrowed the list to four firms.
"The City Council members have indicated they will listen to those four firms during a special executive session Tuesday afternoon. The council and administration will then discuss which direction they want to go," said Repella. "One of our concerns at this point is if the city contests a lawsuit and loses the case, we could be responsible for paying the plaintiff's fees, which could be substantial. If a decision is made to defend the logo, which was never adopted as the official logo of the city, we will look into the possibility of creating a legal defense fund for future financial concerns."
Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci reviews the nearly 500 e-mails his office has received since the city went public about the legal challenge to its unofficial logo containing a cross and a silhouette of the Franciscan University of Steubenville chapel.
All four law firms, which Repella declined to identify, have offered to represent the city on a pro-bono basis.
"The city has heard from a number of people who believe we should stand up against the legal threat from the FFRF, including a $25 donation from one person and a resident who has pledged $1,000 for a defense fund," noted Repella.
The Wisconsin foundation first contacted the city in May regarding the unofficial logo, but council didn't go public with its initial decision to change the logo until a July meeting.
Terry McKeegan, a city resident and one of 2,200 attorneys affiliated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, has said the unofficial logo case may be a strong test case.
"This may be the perfect case to take to the Supreme Court," McKeegan said. "Steubenville has a number of very motivated Christians and Catholics who are used to being very politically motivated. They are also very good at getting media attention on a national basis."
The FFRF has taken note of the offers of free legal representation and issued a press release earlier this month warning against accepting legal help to oppose the foundation. The press release quoted foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliot as telling Repella, "Do not be duped by offers from religious right legal groups. They may volunteer their time pro bono but they never pick up the plaintiff's' tab."
The press release said Elliott warned the city "about accepting such offers, which will put city taxpayers at risk."
Mayor Domenick Mucci said his office has received nearly 500 e-mails, "mostly urging us to fight this challenge" after Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights with headquarters in New York, directed his members to e-mail the mayor and "encourage him not to buckle to the forces of censorship."
"The overwhelming majority of the e-mails we have received are in favor of keeping the unofficial logo and urging the city to keep the cross. Most of the e-mails urge us to stand strong," Mucci said.