A measure calling for the statue of Father Junipero Serra in the U.S. Capitol to be replaced with one of NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was shelved in the Legislature on Thursday.
The measure has been controversial since it was introduced in January. Roman Catholics in particular have criticized the proposal to remove the likeness of Serra, an 18th century Franciscan friar who created the California mission system and whose legacy has been a subject of dispute.
Pope Francis has praised Serra as a U.S. "founding father" and plans to canonize him on a visit to the U.S. in September.
FOR THE RECORD:
Serra statue: In the July 3 California section, an article about a state Assembly resolution calling for the replacement of a statue of Father Junipero Serra in the U.S. Capitol with one of NASA astronaut Sally Ride said that the Serra statue had been there since 1934. It has been there since 1931.
"Our concerns are mostly due to the timing of this legislative debate," Sandra Palacios, associate director of governmental affairs at the California Catholic Conference, said at an Assembly committee hearing this week.
An Assembly vote on the proposal — a resolution that would not have the force of law — was postponed at the request of the author, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who cited the pope's visit. The senator said he has requested that the proposal be considered at a later date.
The measure passed the state Senate in April. Its prospects in the Assembly are unclear.
"Debating such a bill just before the pope's visit would have conveyed a terrible message to him and millions of Catholics around the world, contradicting California's reputation as a tolerant and welcoming place for all people," Assemblyman William P. Brough (R-Dana Point) and Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) said in a joint statement Thursday.
Brough and Bates, who represent districts that include Mission San Juan Capistrano, which Serra founded, are against the measure.
Opponents have flooded the Facebook page of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the resolution's principal coauthor, with pleas to keep the Serra statue in the National Statuary Hall in Washington.
Supporters of the resolution said it was important to modernize California's symbols and celebrate a trailblazer from the state.
Ride, who was born and grew up in Los Angeles and was living in La Jolla when she died in 2012, would be the first woman to represent California in the collection and the first known gay person.
"We believe it is high time for the LGBT community, and particularly LGBT youth, to see someone represent our community at this level and demonstrate that LGBT people can and do make history through their achievements," Jo Michael, legislative manager at Equality California, said at this week's hearing.
If the resolution passes the Legislature and is signed by the governor, it will go to Congress' Joint Committee on the Library of Congress for consideration.
Each state can place two statues of important citizens in the Capitol. The one of Serra, who has been criticized for his treatment of Native Americans, has been there since 1931. The other California statue is of President Reagan.
FOR THE RECORD
July 3, 10:36 a.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that the statue of Junipero Serra has been in the Capitol since 1934. The statue was installed in 1931.
Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.