The cross and the county seal

The current official seal of Los Angeles County (right) replaced a previous version in 2004 (left) that contained a Christian cross. Two county supervisors have proposed restoring the cross to the seal.
(L.A. County / Associated Press)

Los Angeles County Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich are beginning 2014 by reopening the contentious debate over whether there should be a Christian cross on the county seal. Words almost fail, but here’s one that comes to mind: Seriously?

In a pivotal year for the county — when two supervisors will be termed out and replaced, the FBI is continuing a criminal investigation of the jails, the Probation Department is struggling to track paroled adult felons and fix a troubled juvenile hall and camp system, the Department of Children and Family Services is trying to pull itself together, the assessor is under indictment, and voters may weigh in on a challenge to the Department of Public Health — Knabe and Antonovich are turning back the clock 10 years to the most contentious, attention-grabbing but substantively empty debate of the last two decades.

It’s hard to imagine a more pointless diversion of focus and resources than the two supervisors’ motion to add a cross to a tiny depiction of San Gabriel Mission on the official but obscure symbol that county employees use on their stationery and that county buildings fly on their flags.

Their argument — that the depiction of the mission is “artistically and architecturally inaccurate” because in real life there is now a cross on top of the main building — is laughable. The little image of the mission on the county seal doesn’t include bells, either, and San Gabriel’s bells are famous.


But of course, this is not about the depiction and it’s not about the bells, either. It’s about a not-very-subtle attempt by two elected officials who were on the losing end of the 2004 vote to change the county seal to now sneak the primary symbol of Christianity back in.

It was problematic enough that Knabe and Antonovich considered spending millions to defend the county’s previous seal in court, in order to retain a small cross over an image of the Hollywood Bowl. Precedent was against them, even when it came to keeping the old cross. How likely is it that courts would now uphold a move to add a cross to an official government emblem even under the transparent guise of architectural integrity? Not very.

County supervisors have better things to do with their time. The debate over the cross was a maddening distraction 10 years ago, but once the battle was joined, for better or worse, the board majority correctly opted to remove the cross as an inappropriate and probably unconstitutional sign of state preference for one religion. That fight is over.