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L.A. County won’t appeal ruling striking cross from county seal

County seal
This page of a decision by a federal court judge shows the seal of Los Angeles County in 2014, with a cross atop the San Gabriel Mission.
(U.S. District Court via Associated Press)

Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday not to appeal a judge’s ruling that will strike a cross from the county seal.

In April, a federal court judge sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a group of religious leaders and scholars of various faiths who sued the county over the addition of a cross to the depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the seal. The plaintiffs argued that the design unconstitutionally favored Christianity over other religions.

A divided Board of Supervisors voted in 2014 to reinstate a cross on the seal. Ten years earlier, the county had redesigned the seal to remove a cross that was shown floating above the Hollywood Bowl, after being threatened with a similar lawsuit.

At that time, there was no cross atop the real San Gabriel Mission; it had gone missing during earthquake retrofitting. The cross was later restored on top of the building. 

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Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe argued that reinstating the cross on the depiction of the mission on the seal was necessary for historical and architectural accuracy.

They were joined by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in voting to restore the cross on the seal, while then-Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina voted to oppose it.

In her April ruling, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder wrote that the “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.”

On Tuesday, after a closed-door discussion of the lawsuit, Ridley-Thomas joined Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis in voting not to appeal the court decision, with Knabe and Antonovich dissenting.

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Ridley-Thomas said in a statement on his change in stance: “The court has spoken and in the interest of the county I think we need to move on and focus our attention on some of the more pressing issues like the crisis of homelessness.”

Antonovich, reached by phone, said he was confident that the county would have prevailed on appeal.

“Once again, the ACLU, who I refer to as the Atheist Criminal Liberties Union, was successful in bullying their way to rewrite history,” he said. “This was a victory for the book burners.”

The ACLU of Southern California said in a statement Tuesday, “The ill-conceived and misguided effort to alter the county seal and favor Christianity over all other faiths has cost taxpayers at least $1 million. Today’s action guarantees that the taxpayers will not be forced to suffer further.”

The county previously refused to disclose how much it spent on outside legal fees in the case, citing ongoing litigation. 

ACLU spokeswoman Sandra Hernandez said $1 million was a “conservative estimate” of legal fees and the cost of redesigning the seal. 

 

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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Twitter: @sewella


UPDATES:

5:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

This article was first posted at 5:19 p.m.


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