LA County Seal

The former version of the Los Angeles County seal, left, includes a cross above the Hollywood Bowl. That seal was replaced by the version on the right.

Abby Sewell
April 7, 2016

In a long-awaited ruling, a federal judge has sided with plaintiffs who argued it was unconstitutional for Los Angeles County supervisors to place a Christian cross on the county seal.

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.

A decade earlier, the county had removed a cross from the seal — this one shown floating above the Hollywood Bowl — after being threatened with a similar lawsuit. The proponents of reinstating the cross on the seal argued it was needed to make the image of the mission historically and architecturally accurate. When the seal was redesigned in 2004, there was no cross on top of the mission, as it had gone missing during earthquake retrofitting. The cross was later restored atop the building.

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.”

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