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.