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

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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
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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?

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rick allen
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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.

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David Allen
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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.

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Susan Moritz
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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.

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Paul Woodrum
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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?

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Susan Moritz
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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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Leslie Marshall
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Leslie Marshall

Previously the seal featured Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit.

Now it features a native american woman walking on water, haloed by her Sun Spirit.

Can't people see that we are awash in symbols daily? What's the harm with seeing a Cross along with our Rainbows, Stars, Lotus blossoms, Garden buddhas, etc.? 🙂

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Jos. S. Laughon
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It seems we live in totally trivial times that obsess over trivial things. It seems some on the cultural left will not be satisfied until the last bit of Christianity is purged from the public square.

As a Californio and Angeleno, this is ridiculous. Why not rename all the streets named after Spanish saints? Surely positing our city and county as belonging to the Queen of Angels is just as "offensive"?

The slow trend of renaming, casting down and erasure only serves to sever us from our past.

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Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

...... Only in the good old US of A ..........

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Joseph Henderson
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Joseph Henderson

David Allen, thanks for the clarification. I must not have read carefully enough. But does the fact that it's County rather than City, how does that change the analysis?

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Susan Moritz
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Susan Moritz

There’s nothing “silly” about the separation of church and state. In this very thorough opinion, the court found that the 2014 revision of the county seal for the sole purpose of adding a cross to what was obviously the San Gabriel Mission violated both the state and federal Constitutions. The waste of taxpayer money was to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars two years ago to effect an unconstitutional change in the seal.
Ed Bacon’s statement is both reasonable and wholehearted, and especially his point about the symbolic power of the cross---for Christians and non-Christians.

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Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

And just how many angels were there on that pin?

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Paul Woodrum
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Isn't the mission church itself not only a symbol of Christianity, but of one particular denomination? Considering how the Roman Catholic missions treated Native Americans, I would think LA county might want to rethink their whole seal.

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Thom Forde
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Thom Forde

If the city wished to revamp their seal - so be it - it's their right. The area was actually home to native tribes long before it was claimed for Spain in 1542. The first mission didn't appear until 1771 and it was given the name "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula." But if the City wishes to engage in such scrupulosity they should go all the way and drop the obviously religious reference to angels. If your going to be silly, may as well go full clown.

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David Allen
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David Allen

This isn't about the City of Los Angeles. This is about the County of Los Angeles. Two different jurisdictions and governments.

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Joe Henderson
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Joe Henderson

Marianne, that would be a good argument if the Mission had always had a cross on top, but it has not. It acquired the cross fairly recently, and the Mission was founded without the Cross. It is actually more accurate to portray the Mission church without the cross.

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Marianne Wilburn
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Marianne Wilburn

Are they going to still show the mission church but without the cross? That would be historical bowdlerization. We live in silly times. What a waste of time and money.

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rick allen
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Nice to know that the County of the Angels has finally rid itself of all Christian connotations.

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Sean Storm
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Sean Storm

I simply say it's a waste of time and LA taxpayers money. All this arguing over such a small thing. Are we becoming so afraid of such things? May God help us all.

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