LOS ANGELES (CN) – Religious leaders – Christians, Muslims and Jews – sued Los Angeles County in Federal Court, claiming its plan to restore a depiction of the cross on the county seal is unconstitutional.
The Rev. Ian Elliot et al. sued the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and its CEO William Fujioka, on constitutional grounds.
Elliot, who is Episcopalian, and eight other religious leaders, including three rabbis, a Unitarian minister and a lay Muslim leader, say they are affronted by the supervisors’ decision to restore a cross to an image of the San Gabriel Mission on the official seal.
“The purpose and effect of the motion was to favor the Christian faith over other religious and non-religious beliefs,” the 16-page lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the county from adopting the new seal, and a declaration that the board is denying the plaintiffs’ right to religious freedom under the Establishment Clause.
An official seal adopted in 1957 depicted a cross over an image of the Hollywood Bowl. In 2004 American Civil Liberties Union threatened the county with legal action unless it removed the cross.
County officials caved and redesigned the official seal without any religious symbols.
County Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe dissented at the time.
The two Republican politicians proposed a new motion to restore the cross earlier this year. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined them to pass the motion by 3-2 vote on Jan. 7.
Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina dissented.
ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum filed the complaint for the religious leaders.
Antonovich called the ACLU “storm troopers” – a statement sure to offend the three rabbi plaintiffs – and accused the group of trying to “rewrite history.”
Knabe told the Los Angeles Times that politicians were spurred to change the design “in the name of historical correctness, not political correctness.”
Rosenbaum said doubted that politicians were motivated by historical rather than religious concerns.
“Mr. Antonovich and Mr. Knabe are historians in the same way SNL’s [Saturday Night Live] Father Guido Sarducci is a priest,” Rosenbaum said in a statement, citing the character created by comedian Don Novello. “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.”
Plaintiffs include the chairman of the UCLA Department of History and former Director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies David Myers; Rabbis Amy Bernstein, Harold Schulweis and John Rosove; the Rev. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena; Shakeel Syed, a lay Muslim leader; the Rev. Tera Little, minister at Throop Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena; and the Rev. Peter Laarman, of the United Church of Christ.
The men and women of God allege violations of the Establishment Clause of the 14th Amendment and violations of the California Constitution.
Linda Burrow of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor is co-counsel.
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