Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Board of Supervisors Affirms Decision to Remove Cross From County Seal
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors yesterday affirmed its decision last week to negotiate an agreement with the ACLU of Southern California under which a tiny cross will be removed from the county seal.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich asked the board to “seek outside counsel for a comprehensive legal opinion” about the issue. The supervisors voted 3-2 on June 1 not to fight a court battle over the seal, and Antonovich’s motion failed by the same 3-2 vote, county spokeswoman Judy Hammond said.
Supervisor Don Knabe supported Antonovich’s motion, but Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, opposed it.
Hundreds of people spurred on by a radio talk show host gathered in and outside the Board of Supervisors meeting room to protest the plans for removing the cross.
“In the Soviet Union there was a joke,” said radio host Dennis Prager, who is Jewish, as he spoke before the board.
“A very powerful dissident joke—I’m sure that Zev remembers this. They used to say in the Soviet Union, `The future is known; it’s the past which is always changing.’
“Totalitarianism is not possible, unless you erase the past. That is what you did. That is why there are so many people here and thousands outside.”
In a May 19 letter to each supervisor, the ACLU of Southern California argued that the “Latin cross” on the 47-year-old seal is a “sectarian religious symbol that represents the beliefs of one segment of the county’s diverse population.”
The ACLU contends the inclusion of the cross on the seal represents a violation of the constitutional precept of separation of church and state.
Protesters carried signs comparing the ACLU to the Taliban and lined Temple Street at Grand Avenue in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles.
Others held signs reading: “Jews for the Seal,” “Anti-Christian Liberties Union” and “Stop the Cultural Cleansing. Stop the ACLU.”
Many drivers, including one in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department car, honked their horns in support of the protesters.
In closed session June 1, the Board of Supervisors voted to negotiate with the ACLU, which had threatened to sue unless the cross is removed from the county seal.
A possible compromise would be to replace the cross with the image of a Spanish mission and the indigenous people that predated the missionaries.
Antonovich asserted that several faith-based constitutional rights groups, including the Pacific Justice Center and the American Center for Law and Justice, have opined that under legal precedents the seal could be successfully defended in court. The purpose of the cross is historical and secular, not religious, the supervisor claimed, and a reasonable observer would not believe its presence constitutes an endorsement of religion by government.
“The board’s majority decision to yield to the ACLU’s demand to change the county’s official seal was based on an incomplete legal analysis,” Antonovich said.
The County Counsel’s Office has indicated that to pursue the matter in court would probably result in an expensive loss, but Antonovich countered that the foundations have volunteered to bear the cost of a court battle.
Nearly 100 people signed up to speak on the issue before the board.
Some comments to board members became personal. A few Hispanic and black speakers accused Molina, who is Hispanic, and Burke, who is black, of not representing the views of their communities.
Yaroslavsky, who is Jewish, also was told that removing a cross from the seal conceivably could translate to the ban of all religious-oriented symbols, such as Jewish boys being banned from wearing yarmulkes.
Another speaker said being forced to remove the cross reminded him of Nazi Germany.
In several other comments, compromise-supporting supervisors were warned they would not be re-elected if they do not reconsider.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company