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Faith leaders win permanent injunction against Christian cross on LA County seal

Faith leaders win permanent injunction against Christian cross on LA County seal

As Tennessee lawmakers were approving a Bill to make the Bible their state book, a hint of the legal challenges they might face surfaced in Los Angeles County, where faith leaders were the plaintiffs in a judgement prohibiting the inclusion of a cross on the LA County seal.

The LA Times reports

A divided Board of Supervisors voted in 2014 to reinstate the cross on top of a depiction of the San Gabriel Mission, which appears on the seal among other symbols of county history. They were sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a group of religious leaders and scholars, who said placement of the cross on the seal unconstitutionally favored Christianity over other religions. …

In a 55-page ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder wrote that the addition of the cross ”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.

“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 full text of the judgement gives considerable historical context to the revisions that the seal has undergone in recent decades.

The Revd J. Edwin Bacon, Jr, Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and one of the plaintiffs in the case, responded via the ACLU, arguing that the judgement affirms the view that the cross is uniquely Christian, and cannot convey any other message than that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save the world from its sins.

For much of the past two years, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has engaged in a prolonged and costly battle that purports to restore historical accuracy to the county’s seal by placing a cross atop a mission.

The county’s stance seems simple enough, until you consider what is really at stake: elevating one religion over all others in a county with a rich and diverse history. …

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.

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.

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.

Third, 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.

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.

It is precisely because of the power that the cross wields, argues Bacon, that it does not belong on our government seals.



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Paul Woodrum

The San Gabriel mission is 245 years old. The cross was taken down for twenty years while repairs were made to the building. That suggests that it was there for 225 years. The cross is part of the mission as the mission is part of the history of Los Angeles. The power of that tiny cross in the whole cross design of the seal is greatly exaggerated by Jesus’ enemies without and liberals within Christianity, both of whom, I would hope, might have more significant things to worry about, like poverty, hunger, persecution, genocide and war, to mention a few.

As for the rest of the seal, there is not a symbol that doesn’t have multiple interpretations, most of them religious as well as commercial. You may see the Hollywood Bowl, but I see a rainbow. Hail Noah and/or gay people everywhere. And those stars, maybe the children of Abraham?

rick allen

What seems strange to me is that so many people commenting here seem not to recognize that the basic design of the seal is still a cross within a circle.

David Allen

Like the arrow in the FedEx logo, many folks can’t “see” such things. Or at least not until someone else has pointed it out to them.

Susan Moritz

Not a bull of Bashan but “the champion cow Perlette,” indeed representing the dairy industry. The tuna represents the fishing industry. The Hollywood Bowl and stars represent cultural industries, but in the original design the Hollywood Bowl also had a plain Latin cross in the sky above it. All the symbolism is explained in the court’s decision, as is the history of the actual cross on the San Gabriel Mission. (Wikipedia notwithstanding, the cross was taken down in 1989 and was not replaced until 2009.) The original post here gives you links to the history, the constitutional arguments, and the motives of the plaintiffs, who are nine religious leaders of various faiths.

“Political correctness” is not what the plaintiffs were concerned with, as Ed Bacon has explained above. The historical and cultural contributions of the missions are represented on the seal by the San Gabriel Mission itself (which was not in the original design). But symbol of the cross, however tiny, has tremendous power—as Ed Bacon also says—not to convert or subvert anyone but as the central religious symbol of Christianity (unlike the Christmas tree on the White House lawn). It’s strange to me that so many people of faith commenting here seem not to recognize that power.

Paul Woodrum

According to Wickopedia, the cross was only temporarily removed from the the church to enable restoration work and then put back up. Through whatever lens one views the missions — foundational to development of California or European conquest, colonization, and enslavement — they are a pivotal part of its history and deserve to be represented accurately regardless of later political correctness. I seriously doubt that tiny cross will subvert or convert anyone any more that does a Christmas tree on the White House lawn.

One might as well argue that that fish represents Jesus, that the sun represents the Egyptian god Ra, or the Indian maiden bearing fruit is a fertility goddess. Is that a bull of Bashan in the lower right corner or just a plug for the dairy industry?

Susan Moritz

Leslie, If you read the court’s opinion you will see that in 2004 the Board of Supervisors negotiated an agreement to replace Pomona (who had been chosen by the designer of the seal to represent agriculture) with “a representation of the region’s indigenous peoples” and to include “a depiction of a California mission” to replace a Latin cross that the designer had included to represent the influence of the church in California, or perhaps simply “religion.” The Board made the change then, over furious objections at a public hearing, because it was aware that the depiction of the cross was an unconstitutional endorsement of a particular religion and wanted to avoid a lawsuit.
Ten years later, when the Board reinstated the cross, it was reminded by the Supervisor who had presided over the 2004 decision that restoring the cross was not a question of historical accuracy: “What is a constitutional issue is the placement of a symbol, the principal symbol of a religion on a county seal.” He went on to say that angels, for instance, are not a constitutional problem: angels “are not the principal symbol of any particular religion.” (p. 13)
Yes we are awash with symbols. The First Amendment gives you the right of free speech. It also gives you freedom of religion. You’re free to use whatever symbols you wish. But no government in this country—local, state, or federal—may use a symbol to endorse a particular religion. In this case, as the court said, “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.”

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