LOS ANGELES – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor today filed a federal lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors challenging its decision to restore a cross to the county seal.
In choosing to place a symbol of Christianity on the official seal, which appears on county vehicles, meeting rooms and elsewhere, the supervisors have chosen to violate the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause that guarantees the separation of church and state. Some of the supervisors insist that restoring the cross is vital to the historical accuracy of the seal. Historical accuracy, however, does not trump the Constitution.
“Supervisors Antonovich and Knabe have attempted to get around our constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state by claiming that the cross is a symbol of history, not religion,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of ACLU SoCal. “But Mr. Antonovich and Mr. Knabe are historians in the same way SNL’s Father Guido Sarducci is a priest. These supervisors have exacerbated the constitutional slap at all religions by reinserting a Christian cross on the seal by means of a Pinocchio-style fib.”
Moreover, the supervisors’ misguided decision fails to protect the county’s diverse religious communities. By elevating the symbol of one faith over all others, the supervisors fail to protect the rights of all religions. That’s simply un-American.
“The framers of our Constitution understood very well that religious liberty can flourish only if the government takes no sides on religious matters,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of ACLU SoCal. “By ensuring government neutrality in religious matters, the First Amendment ensures the government represents all. 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. This is unconstitutional."
While the ACLU is better known for its work protecting the separation of church and state under the establishment clause, the ACLU vigorously defends the freedom of people of all religions under the free exercise clause to practice their religion free of government interference. Beliefs about the nature of God is a proper subject for individuals, families, religious communities and theologians, but not for government bodies such as the board of supervisors.
"The supervisors' decision to place the cross on the seal can only be interpreted as an endorsement of Christianity, which violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," said Jeff Chemerinsky, an attorney with the law firm of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor. "Non-Christians and Christians rightly feel that the seal infringes their right to be free from government endorsement of religion."