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L.A. County supervisors want to put cross back in county seal

Potentially reopening a contentious cultural battle, two Los Angeles County supervisors are proposing placing a cross in the county’s seal.

In a motion filed Tuesday, Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe called for adding a cross to the depiction of the San Gabriel Mission on the county's official emblem.

The motion notes that the last time the seal was redesigned, in 2004, the historic mission did not have a cross on top of it (the cross had gone missing during an earthquake retrofitting). But four years ago, a cross was returned to the top of the mission.

“The current rendering of the Mission on the seal is artistically and architecturally inaccurate,” the motion reads. The cross ought to be added to the mission on the seal “in order to accurately reflect the cultural and historical role that the Mission played in the development of the Los Angeles County region.”

From 1957 to 2004, the county seal featured a cross floating above a rendering of the Hollywood Bowl. But under growing pressure from activists who argued that the cross violated the separation of church and state, the county Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to remove the cross from the seal in 2004. That vote sparked a multiyear legal battle that ended in 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the county’s decision.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine’s law school, said the proposal is unconstitutional.

“The government can’t put religious symbols on government property in a way that would cause a reasonable observer to see it as the endorsement of a religion,” he said. “Though the supervisors may say there is a history of missions in Los Angeles history, the reality is a cross is a Christian symbol and only a Christian symbol, and a reasonable person is likely to perceive it as a Christian symbol.”

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