Back in 1991, Republic, Missouri ran a ran a competition to choose a logo to be used on the city seal and the city flag. Marilyn Schexsnayder received $100 for the winning entry, an oval divided into quarters depicting the location of Republic within an outline of Missouri, an outstretched hand, a silhouette of a “traditional family” (mother, father, son, daughter), and the Christian fish symbol, the ichthus. The Missouri state flag was used as the basis for the city flag, with the Missouri seal replaced by the city seal — and the city’s name and marketing slogan written out for good measure.
As one might imagine, a city explicitly identifying itself with any one religion would violate the principle of separation of church and state as established in the First Amendment. By February 1998 local objections to the flag became a subject of debate in Board of Aldermen meetings. Closeted Wiccan and employee of the Republic Monitor (a local weekly paper) Jean Webb attended one of these meetings and was moved to write an editorial opposing the flag — for which she was fired and harassed with hate mail and threatening phone calls. Her children were ostracized, and she had to move her family away to escape the bigotry.
Supported by the ACLU, Webb filed a complaint objecting to the Christian symbolism on the flag, which made it to the US District Court in Webb v. City of Republic. The case gained national attention, appearing in the New York Times and elsewhere, and galvanizing local support for the fish-festooned flag and against the ACLU. In 1999 Republic lost the case, and responded by removing the ichthus but otherwise keeping the rest of the seal’s design intact, leaving a bizarre “this space intentionally left blank” in its civic heraldry.
This year Republic is considering updating its flag. Unfortunately, as in the case of Provo, Utah, the main concern seems to be leveraging the city’s investment in a new logo (a stylized R) and slogan (“growing together”). Here are the 11 designs under consideration, according to an April 2016 analysis by Interim City Administrator Jared Keeling.
- Wiccan vows to stay, fight – Sun Journal, 19 October 1998
- Judge Orders a City to Remove Fish Symbol from Official Seal – Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, 14 July 1999
- Republic, Missouri (U.S.) – Flags of the World database