Judge Rules Christian Cross on L.A. County Seal Unconstitutional

The fourth seal of Los Angeles County, California, adopted in January 2014 was found to be unconstitutional by a U.S. District Judge on April 7, 2016
The fourth seal of Los Angeles County, California, adopted in January 2014 was found to be unconstitutional by a U.S. District Judge on April 7, 2016 | (Photo: Public Domain)

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the Christian cross on the Los Angeles County Seal in California is unconstitutional.

The cross on top of a depiction of the San Gabriel Mission, which appears on the seal among other symbols of county history was reinstated by a divided Board of Supervisors by a vote in 2014, according to the L.A. Times.

The supervisors were sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a group of religious leaders and scholars, who argued that the cross on the seal unconstitutionally favored Christianity over other religions.

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U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder wrote in a 55-page ruling released Thursday, that the addition of the cross to the seal "carries with it an aura of prestige, authority, and approval. By singling out the cross for addition to the seal, the county necessarily lends its prestige and approval to a depiction of one faith's sectarian imagery."

She further noted: "The county also provides a platform for broadcasting that imagery on county buildings, vehicles, flags, and stationary .… Permitting such a change and the associated expenditure of public funds places the county's power, prestige, and purse behind a single religion, Christianity, without making any such benefit available on an equal basis to those with secular objectives or alternative sectarian views."

The county had removed another cross from the seal, shown floating above the Hollywood Bowl, ten years earlier after they were threatened with a similar lawsuit, according to the Times.

Supporters of the cross on the seal argued that it was necessary to make the image of the mission historically and architecturally accurate. They note that when the seal was redesigned in 2004, there was no cross on top of the mission, because it had gone missing during earthquake retrofitting but was later restored.

Snyder argued, however, that other objects depicted on the seal, including the Hollywood Bowl, were also not depicted accurately.

County spokesman David Sommers told the Times that county officials were reviewing the ruling and could not comment. Two county supervisors who led the push to reinstate the cross criticized the judge's decision, noting that other California municipalities — including Ventura and San Benito counties and the city of San Luis Obispo — depict missions with crosses on their seal.

"I am disappointed by the Court's ruling, which seems to me to be more about political expediency than the core of what this issue is — ensuring the historical accuracy of the Los Angeles County seal," supervisor Don Knabe, who voted to reinstate the cross, along with Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas, said in a statement to the Times.

"The court failed to see that the Board corrected the inaccurate depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the seal with an architecturally accurate version that featured a small cross — which of course the mission has," Antonovich said in a statement. "As any California fourth-grade student knows, the San Gabriel Mission is an important icon to the region and the birthplace of Los Angeles County."

Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, and Linda M. Burrow, a partner at the law firm of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, said in a Thursday statement that they were "heartened" by the judge's decision because removing Christian symbols promotes diversity.

"We are heartened by the court's ruling because it recognizes that Los Angeles is a diverse county comprised of adherents of hundreds of faiths as well as non-believers, all of whom are entitled to be treated with equal dignity by their government. The placement of the cross on the official county seal promotes one religious sect above others and denies the principle that government represents all of the people, not just those who follow a particular faith," they said.

Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena also argued in a statement that the judge's ruling is a "victory for people of all faiths."

"No doubt some will argue that today's decision is a blow to the religious freedom of some, or nod to political correctness. Such specious arguments, however, ignore reality," Bacon said.

"First, let's be clear. The real San Gabriel Mission that is depicted in the seal didn't have a cross on it until recently, and there were other long periods in the past where there was no cross. So much for historical accuracy," he noted.

"Second, in 2004, when faced with a lawsuit, the board opted to eliminate the cross from the seal precisely because of its religious significance. The board's decision then was an unambiguous admission that the cross represented one thing and one thing only: Christianity. To say otherwise is to deny the truth of Christianity's principal symbol, which signifies that Jesus Christ is the son of God who died to save the world from its sins," he continued.

Bacon then expounded on the virtues of religious freedom and why he thinks the ruling should be viewed positively by all faiths.

"Religious freedom does not give people the right to demand that the government adopt or express favoritism towards their preferred religion. The ruling preserves true religious freedom — the ability of individuals to go to the church, mosque, synagogue or other religious house of worship, or none, without any interference from the government," he wrote. "Today's ruling is actually a victory for people of all faiths who were once again reassured that the government doesn't get to play favorites when it comes to religious matters."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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