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Memo to County Supes: Prove Los Angeles is Nondiscriminatory, Remove the Cross from the County Seal

GUEST COMMENTARY--Last week, a federal judge ended a years-long tug of war when it ruled that Los Angeles County must remove a religious cross from its county seal.

Though religion has been an important part of Los Angeles’ history, the decision allows the Los Angeles County to present itself as an unbiased government that values no religion over others.

The ruling concludes a lawsuit that claimed the addition of a cross on top of the San Gabriel Mission in Los Angeles County’s seal was unconstitutional. Los Angeles County supervisors voted to add the cross to the seal in 2014 despite imminent legal action.

Though it may go unnoticed by many, the images that appear on the county seal are not trivial. Anyone working with the Los Angeles County should be able to expect a religion-neutral environment. Because the seal appears on many official documents and forms, anyone working on current official county paperwork has to do so on a document adorned with a Christian symbol. It’s not hard to imagine how this could be perceived as bias.

While some may argue the cross belongs on the seal as a matter of visual accuracy – it was recently restored after being lost for a time – the seal’s purpose as a symbol of Los Angeles doesn’t necessitate accuracy. In fact, many elements of the seal are inaccurate.

Still, there are legitimate reasons some may want the mission on the seal to bear the cross. Religion is more than just a belief system; it is tied deeply to culture and is an integral component of history. Everything, from art to systems of government, is impossible to study through a lens that omits reference to religion. Therefore, symbols like the Christian cross atop the San Gabriel Mission have a local cultural meaning that extends beyond a general representation of Christianity.

The Los Angeles County has a duty to acknowledge its cultural history, which includes the San Gabriel Mission that played a crucial role in the development of Southern California. The acknowledgement of this history cannot be separated from Christianity, so it is understandable that some would argue for the inclusion of the cross on the mission.

However, the first and most important task of the county will always be to serve and protect its current constituents, and that constituency is more diverse than ever. To make good on this duty, the county must do what it can to respect all of the various belief systems without giving approval to some over others.

Having the San Gabriel Mission on the Los Angeles County seal but omitting its cross strikes a fair balance between acknowledging the county’s religious cultural history and creating a nondiscriminatory environment.

(This editorial appeared last week in the Daily Bruin. It reflects the view of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board.)

-cw