Thursday, November 12, 2015
ACLU’s Action to Bar Cross From County Seal to Be Decided Without Witnesses
By ROGER M. GRACE
The latest news in the latest flap over the latest Los Angeles County seal is that there will be no live testimony at the trial slated to take place today over the 2014 decision of the Board of Supervisors to insert a cross over the depiction of San Gabriel Mission.
There is, as might be expected, a cross over that mission, founded Sept. 8, 1771. But at the time a crude rendering of the mission was added to the new county seal in 2004, the cross was missing from the building.
It had been taken down during the course of earthquake retrofitting and had been stolen.
The reason for the new seal in 2004 was that the American Civil Liberties Union had threatened to sue the county for violating the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution because the existing seal, harking to 1957, had a cross on it.
On Jan. 7, 2014, the Board of Supervisors voted, 3-2, to add a cross to the drawing of the mission because the cross had been recovered and reinstalled. Thirty days later, the ACLU brought an action—a meritless one, in the view of many (including this columnist) in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
In a letter to supervisors, with a copy to others, Interim County Counsel Mary C. Wickham announces:
“We have great news regarding trial in the County seal litigation (Davies v. Board of Supervisors).
“As you know, we have consistently argued throughout this case that the testimony of current and former members of your Board, former Chief Executive Officer Bill Fujioka, and other County witnesses is irrelevant to the issues in this case – namely, whether the County seal violates the United States or California Constitutions.
“The court held a status conference today, November 9th, to discuss trial procedures. During the status conference, plaintiffs finally agreed to submit the case on the written record. In other words, plaintiffs will not call any witnesses, including current and former members of your Board, Bill Fujioka, and other County witnesses.
“The judge concurred with proceeding on the written record. She also indicated she agreed with the County’s position that witness testimony would not have advanced plaintiffs’ case.
“Oral argument on the record is scheduled for this Thursday, November 12th, and is expected to last two days at most.”
“Plaintiffs have argued throughout this case that they are entitled to the testimony of current and former members of your Board, Bill Fujioka, and other County witnesses, to test whether the Board’s stated historical and architectural reasons for adding the cross to the seal are a sham. Plaintiffs believe the Board’s real, unstated reason for adding the cross to the seal is to endorse Christianity.
“We have repeatedly countered that such testimony is not relevant based on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McCreary County v. ACLU, 545 U.S. 844 (2005), which instructed courts to focus on information in the public record, not on a legislator’s secret motivations, when evaluating the constitutionality of a religious symbol on government property.
“During a status conference in August 2015, plaintiffs argued they were entitled to call current and former County witnesses at trial. At the time, the district court judge agreed, stating she would receive all evidence, including witness testimony, subject to a motion to strike.
“However, during a pre-trial status conference on November 9, 2015, plaintiffs changed course and agreed they would not call any witnesses at trial. The judge concurred, and expressed doubts as to whether the witnesses’ testimony would have been relevant, anyway.”
The current seal features a Native American woman, replacing Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards). The smaller symbols are a triangle and a caliper, drafting instruments which, according to the county’s website, “relate to the industrial construction complex of the County and Los Angeles vital contribution to the conquest of space”; Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s galleon, the San Salvador, which arrived at San Pedro on Oct. 8, 1542; a tuna, drawing attention to the county’s fishing industry; the Hollywood Bowl, reflecting cultural activities, with two stars above it, as a tribute to the entertainment industry; the mission, pointing to a significant epoch in early California history; and Pearlette, a championship cow, representing the area’s dairy industry.
To add a cross to the drawing of the mission makes sense, as I see it, but not because the cross, temporarily missing from the actual building, has been restored. Rather, it should not have been omitted in the first place. The seal is depicting history, and should show the mission as it, and other missions, historically appeared. Faithful depiction requires inclusion of the cross—that is, faithfulness to historical accuracy. having nothing to do with a religious faith.
On his website, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich (above, left)—who voted in favor of adding the cross, along with Supervisors Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas—is seen with the county seal behind him, which includes a cross on the roof of the mission. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl (at right)—who was not yet on the board at the time of the Jan. 7, 2014 vote—is seen on her website with a seal that does not include the cross. Notwithstanding his vote, Ridley-Thomas is pictured on his website with the seal with the cross absent. Supervisor Hilda Solis, who also was not on the board when the decision was made, is pictured in front of the seal with only the top of it showing, and Knabe’s website does not feature the seal. The county’s website features the seal with the cross added.
The ACLU, I submit, is maintaining an action, as so often it does, based on hyper-sensitivity and silliness.
But perhaps my thinking is warped, the product of being proselytized when I was in elementary school. In the second or third grade at Mandeville Canyon School in the Pacific Palisades, the history of California was taught. Prominent in the lessons was mention of Father Junipero Serra who founded the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California. And no doubt depicted in our books were drawings of the missions, with crosses atop them. Where was the ACLU then, when we needed protection?
Continuing in facetious vein…the entire seal should be redesigned.
To have yanked a Roman goddess off the seal, replacing her with a native American woman, cannot be perceived as other than a slight to Romans. Rome is the present-day capital of Italy, and a slight to Rome is a slap at all Italians. This cannot be countenanced.
Including Cabrillo’s ship is politically incorrect and is insensitive. According to Wikipedia: “San Salvador was the flagship of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo….She carried officers, crew, slaves, and a priest.” KCET’s website notes: “On June 27, 1542, Cabrillo led…the San Salvador…out of the port of Navidad, Mexico. Though the crew list is lost, it can be surmised that around 200 men—both slave and free—were on board….” The county cannot, in all good conscience, glamorize a ship on which slaves were forced to devote their labors.
The tuna, also, must go! The Natural Resources Defense Council lists tuna as one of the fish with the “highest” mercury levels and cautions: “avoid eating.” It is contrary to the public interest to glamorize a fish which poses a health danger.
It might be said that the fish on the seal is not readily recognizable as being, in specific, a tuna. That makes it all the worse. The fish is a symbol of (horrors!) Christianity.
We cannot allow the cow to remain on the seal. Carol J. Adams’ 1995 book, “Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations” says: “As a term for a woman, cow is, in anthropologist John Halverson’s words, ‘thoroughly derogatory’…, characterizing the woman as fat and dull.” In her 2007 book titled, “Cow,” British author Hannah Velten writes that the word “cow” when “used to describe a human female,…conjures negative images of stubbornness, arrogance, irritability and pushiness.” She adds that “it is a verbal insult bounded about in society by both sexes to describe women exhibiting cow-like behaviours.” So, use of a cow on the seal is demeaning to women, ergo a subtle form of gender discrimination.
Too, to Hindus, the cow is sacred. To see something sacred depicted so casually, along with the Hollywood Bowl and a fish, is doubtlessly offensive.
To avoid offending anyone, perhaps the county could revert to its 1887 seal, above.
No, on second thought, that would not do. Pictured on it are grapes. And from grapes, wine is made.
The county obviously should not be promoting the consumption of alcoholic beverages. That would be on a par with putting cigarettes, or marijuana plants, or sources of gluten on the seal.
Use of the state flower, the poppy, is out of the question. Opium is made from poppies.
The California grizzly bear is on the state flag—but placing that on the seal is also unthinkable, and it should come off the flag. There are constantly accounts of maulings by bears, sometimes fatal. Earlier this year, a man was fatally attacked near British Columbia. Last year, there was fatal attack by a bear on a man in New Jersey. Also last year, a bear made a predatory attack on a woman near Alberta, killing her. This vicious creature should not be glamorized.
So, what sort of seal could be conjured up that would offend no one? Hmmmm. Ah, I have it!
To the Board of Supervisors, I grant permission to use the following seal, created by me, royalty-free:
Seal of the future?
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company