LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County's decision to put a cross to its county seal for the first time in a decade was unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
Judge Christina A. Snyder granted a permanent injunction against the change on Wednesday. Adding the cross "places the County's power, prestige, and purse behind a single religion, Christianity" in violation of the U.S. and state constitutions, she wrote.
The county seal is used on buildings, vehicles and publications.
The original 1957 seal included a cross floating above the Hollywood Bowl. The cross was removed in 2004 when the seal was redesigned after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California threatened legal action.
The redesign added a depiction of the historic San Gabriel Mission. At the time, the mission had no cross because it had been removed during earthquake retrofitting.
The cross was stolen, retrieved and restored to the mission in 2009.
In 2014, Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe argued for adding a cross to the top of the mission on the seal, saying it would be a more accurate portrayal. The motion passed 3-2.
The ACLU and a number of clergy members from different faiths immediately sued.
The judge's ruling was applauded by Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, and Linda M. Burrow with Caldwell, Leslie & Proctor, a law firm that joined in the lawsuit.
"We are heartened by the court's ruling because it recognizes that Los Angeles is a diverse county comprised of adherents of hundreds of faiths as well as non-believers, all of whom are entitled to be treated with equal dignity by their government," they said in a statement.
Antonovich said he would support appealing the ruling, which he said "ignores historical and architectural reality."
"As any California fourth-grade student knows, the San Gabriel Mission is an important icon to the region and the birthplace of Los Angeles County," Antonovich said in a statement.
The city of San Luis Obispo and the counties of Ventura and San Benito also have missions with crosses on their seals, the supervisor said.