Judge Rules Reinstating Cross in LA County Seal is Unconstitutional

County of Los Angeles
(Photo : Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors/Wikimedia/CC) Federal judge ruled the fourth seal unconstitutional on April 7, 2016, as it depicted a cross.

A federal judge ruled that including a cross in the Los Angeles County seal is unconstitutional.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was sued by ACLU and clergy of different faiths over their decision to re-depict the cross in the county’s seal.

The original 1957 seal had a Latin cross above the Hollywood Bowl, which was removed in 2004 due to a threat of a lawsuit by ACLU.

The county seal was then redesigned to include the San Gabriel Mission, but at the time that it was included, the physical San Gabriel Mission did not have a cross because it was removed for seismic retrofitting. It was thereafter restored to the mission building in 2009.

In 2014, Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich, pointed out that adding the cross back on the San Gabriel Mission in the seal would be an accurate portrayal. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on January 7, 2014, to put the cross back on the mission in the L.A. County seal, which they said reflected history and architecture of the building more accurately. The department was then sued by clergy members of other religions and ACLU on February 6, 2014.

This week, the seal was ruled unconstitutional by US District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder, who granted a permanent injunction against depicting the cross atop the San Gabriel Mission on the seal.

Snyder wrote a 55-page ruling stating that the seal "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."

Hector Villagra, the executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, and Linda M. Burrow of the Leslie & Proctor law firm, said they were “heartened” by the ruling.

“[The ruling] recognizes that Los Angeles is a diverse county comprised of adherents of hundreds of faiths as well as non-believers, all of whom are entitled to be treated with equal dignity by their government," they said in a statement.

Supervisors, Antonovich and Knabe, who initiated the reinstatement of cross on the San Gabriel Mission in the seal expressed disappointment regarding the ruling, which they said did not take note of "the historical accuracy of the Los Angeles County seal."

"The court failed to see that the Board corrected the inaccurate depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the seal with an architecturally accurate version that featured a small cross - which of course the mission has," they said in a statement. "As any California fourth-grade student knows, the San Gabriel Mission is an important icon to the region and the birthplace of Los Angeles County."

The Pacific Justice Institute has urged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to appeal the court's decision.

President of the Pacific Justice Institute, Brad Dacus, said, "The ACLU may not like our state and national history, but no lawsuit can change reality. The historic San Gabriel Mission is a crucial part of the history of Los Angeles, and it should be depicted on the county seal the same way it appears in real life."

PJI has offered the county its legal support in the form of filing a friend-of-the-court brief.

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