Should LA County's Seal Depict The Cross?

Almost a decade after the threat of a lawsuit prompted the costly removal of a cross from the Los Angeles County seal, conservative members of the Board of Supervisors are pushing to bring back the religious icon.

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe issued a motion Friday, saying the San Gabriel Mission depicted on the seal is "artistically and architecturally inaccurate" for lacking a cross.

They contend that the seal needs to be amended to depict the cross that is now atop the building that is considered the county's birthplace. The seal had topped the mission for centuries, but was taken down because of earthquake damage in 1989, stolen and then recovered. The county seal was redesigned while the cross was still missing, in 2004, but the cross itself was restored to the building in 2009.

"We, therefore, move that the Board of Supervisors direct the Chief Executive Officer to make the county seal artistically, aesthetically and architecturally correct by placing the cross on top of the San Gabriel Mission in order to accurately reflect the cultural and historical role that the mission played in the development of the Los Angeles County region," Antonovich and Knabe wrote in the motion.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, remains adamant that a cross has no place on a government seal.

"Placing a cross, the universal symbol of Christianity, back on the seal communicates that Los Angeles County favors and endorses one religion above all others," ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Hector Villagra said in an emailed statement.

"This thinly veiled attempt to smuggle the cross into the seal will fool no one; it will reopen the debate about the separation of church and state, distract officials from pressing questions, and risk the lawsuit and liability supervisors once wisely avoided," he added.

The original seal, which featured an image of grapes surrounded by words including "Board of Supervisors," was designed in 1887.

Former Supervisor Kenneth Hahn redesigned it in 1957 to include an image of the Roman goddess Pomona, oil towers, and a cross.

The seal was redesigned again in 2004, without Pomona or the oil towers. The ACLU, however, threatened to sue the county unless the cross was removed as well.

los angeles county seal

A photo of the former LA County seal from 2004. It contains a gold cross.

After a series of emotional testimony and debates, as well as legal arguments, the board gave in to the ACLU, and spent $700,000 replacing the seals on government buildings, vehicles, uniforms, stationery, flags and other items.

The current seal has a drawing of an American-Indian woman on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, against a backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. She is surrounded by three images on each side -- the Spanish galleon San Salvador, a tuna fish, the championship cow Pearlette, the Hollywood Bowl, a triangle and caliper, and stars representing the motion picture and television industries.

Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said the current seal was designed five years before the cross atop the mission was restored in 2009.

Antonovich tried back then to "correct" the seal to become a proper reflection of the mission, but failed. Both he and Knabe are now in their final term as supervisors.

Bell said Tuesday the "mistake" in the depiction of the mission should now be "fixed."

"It's important that we have accuracy in our county seal," he said.

Bell said the proposed change would not cost the county anything, as it does not call for replacing any existing seals. Rather, it asks only that future seals carry the cross. ___

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