As anticipated, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Feb. 6 after the board had voted Jan. 7 to restore the cross to the county seal.
The federal suit asserted that the cross’ placement on the seal “favors the Christian religion over all other religions and violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that bars the preference of one religion over another by government agencies.
Supervisors Michael Antonovich, Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas voted in favor of the cross, contending that the seal adopted in 2004 inaccurately depicts San Gabriel Mission as without a cross. L.A. County’s seal had a stand-alone cross symbol on it from 1957 to 2004, reflecting California’s mission heritage.
Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina voted against adding a rooftop cross to the image of San Gabriel Mission, over concerns about likely lawsuits.
In 2004, acting on mounting pressure from critics who argued that the cross violated the constitutional separation of church and state, and facing a threatened ACLU lawsuit, county supervisors decided to remove the religious image in a 3-2 vote.
The cross was replaced with an image of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel minus its traditional rooftop cross, which at the time of the seal’s altering was missing from the actual church building due to earthquake retrofitting. The cross was re-erected on the San Gabriel Mission four years ago.