John Parker, who has cut hair for 34 years in this town that prides itself on wholesomeness, smiled as he offered a solution for heading off a lawsuit over the city's Christian fish symbol.

"They ought to just make it into a regular fish," Parker said as he gives a customer a trim in his barber shop on Main Avenue. "Paint gills on it and put a hook in its mouth and be done with it."He figures that would not only keep the embattled fish on the city seal but would identify Republic as being right in the middle of a highly desirable fishing area.

Many hope it would also make the American Civil Liberties Union go away.

The idea says a lot about the local attitude toward what appears to be an inevitable legal clash between the ACLU and this town of about 8,000 that, once one ventures off the strip-mall-lined main highway to Main, appears largely unchanged by time.

Everyone who will talk about the fish - and that's just about everyone in Republic, which traces its roots to the 1850s - seems to like the little symbol on the seal, which is imprinted on the city's stationery, its Web page, its maintenance vehicles and the flag at City Hall. Or if they don't like it, they bear it no ill will.

But when it comes to engaging in an expensive legal battle over it, well, that's another matter. City officials say it would take $100,000 in legal costs to keep the fish.

"I've been here a long time and it's no big deal to me either way," Parker said of the symbol. "I don't think it hurts anything being there."

The money would be used to fight the ACLU of Kansas and western Missouri, which voted earlier this month to take the city to court over the issue.

The fish, recognized for centuries as a symbol of Christianity, violates the constitutional separation of church and state, according to the ACLU, which has reported receiving complaints from Republic residents about it.

Gay Revi, of the ACLU's Ozarks chapter in Springfield, said last week the lawsuit would be filed soon. It decided to sue after city officials rejected its demand to remove the fish, instead asking residents to raise $100,000 to carry forth the fight.