Supervisors Approve Knabe-Backed Push to Restore Cross to County Seal

Nearly 10 years after legal wrangling prompted Los Angeles County to remove a cross from its official seal, the Board of Supervisors narrowly voted today to add a cross to the depiction of the San Gabriel Mission.

When the county seal was redesigned in 2004 -- removing a cross and other images under the threat of legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California -- it included a depiction of the mission, which at the time did not have a cross because it was being retrofitted after the Whittier Narrows earthquake.

The cross, however, was reattached to the mission in 2009, making the county seal's depiction of the mission "artistically and architecturally inaccurate," according to the motion introduced by Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe.

Antonovich said the change was strictly a matter of making "a historical correction" and ensuring that the seal accurately portrays the mission. He pointed out that the story of the missions is part of public school lessons.

"In every fourth-grade curriculum in the State of California, you have the history of the missions," Antonovich said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky -- who, along with Supervisor Gloria Molina, cast the dissenting votes -- disagreed.

"It's not just about history, it's about the cross," Yaroslavsky said. "To say otherwise is disingenuous."

If the county wanted to honor the history of the missions, there are a "hundred ways" to do so other than replacing the cross, Yaroslavsky argued, including putting angels on the seal or a depiction of Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions.

Restoring the cross, Yaroslavsky warned, would expose the county to lawsuits it would be sure to lose on constitutional grounds.

An ACLU spokesman agreed.

"The ACLU of Southern California strongly opposes the motion," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU Southern California. "Doing so would violate both California and the United States Constitution."

After the county redesigned its seal in 2004 to remove the depiction of a cross, a county employee named Ernesto Vasquez filed a lawsuit claiming the action was hostile to Christianity.

A federal judge rejected the suit, and a federal appeals court panel upheld the dismissal. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Eliasberg said the issue was favoring one religion over any other.

"Los Angeles (is) the world's most religiously pluralistic metropolitan area," Eliasberg said. "Religious pluralism has flourished because the government does not favor or denigrate any particular religion. Adding sectarian religious symbols to the county seal runs against that grain."

Dan Snelson January 08, 2014 at 10:43 AM
tell the ACLU to go pound sand, that is NOT an issue of Church and State, it is an issue of HISTORY. The constitution does NOT say we must remove Christianity from our history, only that there cannot be a government sponsored religion, you know like abortion or global warming ;-)
tracy leshay January 09, 2014 at 09:47 AM
I'm glad the supervisors are focussing on the urgent matters facing our city. Our city's history is ongoing and changing and not locked in the past of it's inception. Should we put indians being forcefully converted to Christianity on the seal? Shouldn't our seal represent all who live in the city and be welcoming? Lastly, I hope The Patch will let us know how much we will all be paying to change all the city seals. So many more pressing matters. So much wasted opportunity to do something helpful for the good of all.


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