A divided Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to restore a cross to the county seal.

The motion, proposed by Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe and supported by Mark Ridley-Thomas, will add a cross to the top of the San Gabriel Mission in its depiction on the county emblem.

The decision came despite the threat of lawsuits over the constitutionality of placing a religious symbol on the seal.

Antonovich and Knabe maintained that they simply want the seal to accurately depict the mission. When the seal was redesigned in 2004, there was no cross on top of the mission, as it had gone missing during earthquake retrofitting. A cross was later restored atop the building.

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

From 1957 to 2004, the county seal featured a cross floating above a rendering of the Hollywood Bowl. But under growing pressure from activists who argued that the cross violated the separation of church and state, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to remove the cross from the seal in 2004. That vote sparked a multiyear legal battle that ended in 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the county’s decision.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted against restoring the cross along with Supervisor Gloria Molina, raised concerns about the likelihood of more legal battles.

"It's not just about history, it's about the cross, and to say anything else is disingenuous," he said.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told the board that adding the cross would violate the state and U.S. constitutions and "will subject the county to numerous lawsuits and very likely legal liability."

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abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella