ACLU, religious leaders sue L.A. County over cross on seal

Mike Antonovich of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is part of the panel’s 3-2 majority to add a cross to the top of the San Gabriel Mission depiction on the county seal.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a group of religious leaders filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County in federal court Thursday over the decision to restore a cross to the county’s seal.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 last month to add a cross to the top of the San Gabriel Mission in its depiction on the county emblem, which is displayed on buildings, vehicles and official communications.

The complaint filed Thursday argues that restoring the cross was unconstitutional because it “favors the Christian religion over all other religions and divides County residents by religion and by adherence or non-adherence to religious beliefs.”

The ACLU and the Caldwell Leslie law firm are representing a group of local religious officials and practitioners from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. The plaintiffs, according to the complaint, “object to and are offended by” the county’s decision to add the cross to the seal without also adding symbols of other religions.


The county initially adopted a seal in 1957 that portrayed a cross floating over a depiction of the Hollywood Bowl. In 2004, a divided Board of Supervisors voted to remove the cross rather than fight a threatened lawsuit by the ACLU. A county employee sued to have the cross restored, sparking a multiyear court battle.

The ACLU and others had warned that if it reinstated a cross, the county would face another legal fight.

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe, the main proponents of the cross, argued that adding the cross was an issue of historical accuracy, not religion. 

When the seal was redesigned in 2004, there was no cross on top of the mission, as it had been taken down during earthquake retrofitting and was later stolen. The cross was later recovered and replaced atop the mission.


Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Antonovich and Knabe in voting to restore it, while Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina voted against it, citing concerns about likely litigation.

Twitter: @sewella

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