Back in 2014, I wrote about an interesting legal case out of Los Angeles where a new county seal was being proposed that would put a cross on the roof of an image of a church on the existing county seal. The case was interesting because of the role that history played in it and I discussed the legal aspects of it in that earlier post and will not repeat them here.
Here are the three symbols at issue. The one on the left is the 1957 one. The one on the right is the one that has been there since 2004.
The one below is what the county proposed in 2014. The addition of the cross on the roof of the church is what the lawsuit brought by the ACLU was about.
In November of last year, a one-day hearing was held on the case and on Wednesday U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ruled that the insertion of the cross violated the Establishment Clause and issued a permanent injunction against the county changing the seal. You can read the order here. The county has not said whether it will appeal.
The judge was skeptical of the argument that the insertion of the cross was purely in the interests of historical and architectural accuracy, wondering why the same zeal for accuracy was not demonstrated for the ship, the cow, and the Hollywood Bowl, and that the record showed that the avowed sentiment of those in favor of its insertion was religious and thus it could not be treated as a merely ‘anodyne’ governmental approval of religion.
It seems clear that while the courts are less inclined to demand the removal of all existing religious symbolism from government seals and buildings and the like (especially if they have been there for a long time), the addition of such things faces a much higher hurdle.