Complaint targets continued use of cross in L.A. County seal

Lawyers for religious groups say L.A. County continues to use a logo with a cross, violating a legal agreement

Lawyers for a group of religious leaders complained to a federal judge Tuesday that Los Angeles County continues to display an official seal that includes a Christian cross, violating a legal agreement reached last year.

In court papers, attorneys representing an interdenominational group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders contended that officials had agreed to halt "further implementation" of the logo containing a cross while a lawsuit filed in February 2014 proceeds.

That suit, which was filed by lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, argued that using a cross on a government seal violates the state and U.S. constitutions because it "favors the Christian religion over all other religions."

The dispute is the latest chapter in a long-running tussle over the legality and propriety of the cross in a logo commonly affixed to county vehicles, reports, office signs and badges. The seal bears several drawings that symbolize the county's historical and cultural past, including the San Gabriel Mission.

The county promised in June 2014 to temporarily stop using the seal containing the cross. But ACLU attorneys said Tuesday that it continues to appear on some county documents, websites and stationery.

Lawyers submitted evidence showing the cross on Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich's website, a cover sheet for a recent Board of Supervisors meeting transcript and a program for the county-organized "Women of the Year" luncheon in March.

"You can't tell a court one thing and go and do the opposite," ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Peter Eliasberg said in an interview this week. "Every time they come up with a new [supervisors meeting] agenda, they have a simple choice: use the old seal or use the new one."

Linda Burrow, another attorney who is representing the plaintiffs along with the ACLU, said that the continued use of the cross casts doubt on the county's motives.

"The county's violation shows that they are not concerned about the constitutionality of their actions," Burrow said.

In Tuesday's filing, lawyers for the county did not directly address accusations that it had breached the agreement to stop using the seal with a cross.

County spokesman David Sommers insisted that the seal containing a cross is used only on county materials that were in place before the agreement took effect.

"All county departments have been instructed to abide by the terms of the agreement, in that they are to suspend further implementation" of the seal, Sommers said in a statement.

From 1957 to 2004, the seal featured a cross floating above an icon of the Hollywood Bowl. When complaints arose about the cross, however, the supervisors agreed to a redesign that did not include a cross.

The new seal included an illustration of the San Gabriel Mission, which had undergone an earthquake retrofit and lost its cross in the process.

The cross was restored to the building's facade in 2009, however, leading some officials to call for it to be added to the county seal in the interest of architectural and historical accuracy.

The supervisors voted 3 to 2 in January 2014 to add the cross, despite warnings that the change would generate lawsuits.

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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