The Los Angeles County Seal Will Soon Have a Cross on It January 9, 2014

The Los Angeles County Seal Will Soon Have a Cross on It

For almost a decade now, this has been the seal of Los Angeles County in California:

There’s a lot going on there, but check out the center right image. That’s supposed to represent the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, a Catholic mission dating back hundreds of years. It’s conspicuously missing a cross because, from 1987-2009, the actual building didn’t have one (due to it being destroyed in an earthquake, then stolen). It wasn’t until 2009 that the cross was restored on the building.

So now, some members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors want to change the seal to reflect that. Which is verrrrry convenient considering how often Christians try to get crosses on government seals…

On Tuesday night, they did just that. The supervisors voted 3-2 to revise the seal to include the cross, inviting a challenge from the ACLU:

[Board members Michael D.] Antonovich and [Don] Knabe maintained that they simply want the design to accurately depict the 242-year-old historic site, as Knabe put it, so that it “looks like a mission instead of the back end of a Walmart.”

“We are not adding, we are reflecting upon a historical event that occurred in the county of Los Angeles,” Antonovich said.

A confidential memo prepared by county lawyers in early December at Antonovich’s request said that including a stand-alone cross in the seal would probably be ruled unconstitutional. But the memo also highlighted cases in which government displays of crosses passed legal muster because they were viewed as secular and historic, rather than religious.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, warned the board Tuesday that restoring the cross would be unconstitutional and “subject the county to numerous lawsuits and very likely legal liability.”

The Anti-Defamation League explains why this is a problem:

No reasonable student of California history should deny the importance of Christianity — and the Spanish missionaries who spread it — to the settlement of Los Angeles County. The Christian cross should not be disparaged — anymore than the Jewish Star of David, the Islamic Crescent, and other symbols of faith should be ignored as the proud emblems of those other religious and ethnic groups who have helped establish and enhance our pluralistic community.

If you vote to add a cross to the County seal, you send the divisive and exclusive message that you not only endorse religion over non-religion, but also prefer Christianity over all the other diverse faiths within the County. This message is contrary to the your legal and moral responsibility to treat all people alike. While a cross may be appropriate on a house of worship, private school or university, it is unsuitable on a government seal that represents a religiously and ethnically diverse county of over 10 million people.

I have to admit: this is a tough one for me. It’s not apparent that the supervisors are trying to push Christianity into the seal; they genuinely seem interested in their version of historical accuracy, a history that just so happens to include a cross.

The problem with that argument is that there was that 22-year period where the Mission didn’t have a cross — and it was during this time that the modern seal was drawn. In other words, the seal *was* accurate when it was adopted in 2004. What the three supervisors want to do is paint over that part of the county’s history and go back to a time when the building was even more visibly Christian-friendly.

There is, of course, another solution: Replace the Mission with another symbol of Los Angeles County. Even putting the founder of the missions, Junipero Serra, in place of the building might avert the constitutional crisis. Preferably, though, you find another option that benefitted everyone in the county, not just the religious citizens. Not including the Mission in the seal is no more anti-Christian than sleeping in on a Sunday morning. The Mission isn’t the only game in town when it comes to local history. It’s just the one some people prefer to include in the seal because it promotes their faith.

(via Religion Clause)

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