When the Board of Supervisors took a vote at its January meeting to restore a religious cross to the Los Angeles County Seal I was shocked, stunned and alarmed.
There are ten million citizens of Los Angeles County of whom 3.8 million are Christian, 564,000 are Jewish, 93,000 are Muslim, 70,000 are Buddhist, 73,000 are Hindu, and 4 million do not identify with any religious faith. However, by a vote of 3 (Antonovich, Knabe and Ridley-Thomas) to 2 (Molina and Yaroslavsky) the cross was ordered returned to the LA County seal, a blatant violation of the first amendment of the US Constitution that prohibits government endorsement of religion.
Ten years ago (2004) the correct decision was taken by the Board of Supervisors in a vote of 3 to 2 to remove the cross because it is a universally recognized religious symbol that is unique and special for people of Christian faith.
In response to the January Board of Supervisors vote, the ACLU invited me along with eight other religious leaders including Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue in Encino, UCLA Professor of Jewish History David Myers, the Reverend Peter Laarman of Progressive Christians Uniting, Father Ian Davies of St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Hollywood, the Reverend Ed Bacon of All Saints Church in Pasadena, Shakeel Syed, Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, Rabbi Amy Bernstein of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, and the Reverend Tera Little, Consulting Minister of the First Universalist Parish of Pasadena, to join as plaintiffs in this case. We all willingly agreed as religious leaders and as citizens living in LA County.
For us, our position (as opposed to that taken by Supervisors Antonovich, Knabe and Ridley-Thomas) is the true pro-religion position because we believe that by preserving the separation of church and state, we in fact preserve a safe, neutral space for followers of all religions to practice their faiths unhindered, without the implied endorsement and intimidation from an action signifying that government prefers, even symbolically, one religious denomination over others.
No child, no woman and no man should ever feel in the United States that he or she is marginal in matters of faith. America is NOT a Christian nation according to the US Constitution, nor is it a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, or any other kind of nation based on a specific faith tradition.
Since the case was filed yesterday, Supervisor Mike Antonovich has equated the ACLU with “Storm Troopers” and thereby slandered an organization the sole purpose of which is to defend the United States Bill of Rights, a cornerstone of American democracy. The Supervisor’s language is especially offensive to me as a Jew because I associate “Storm Troopers” with Nazism. By choosing both to put the cross back on the seal and using such inflammatory language, Mr. Antonovich has made this issue particularly divisive. Rather than help to unite this county Mr. Antonovich has chosen to insult and injure decent people and thereby divide us.
I join with my co-plaintiffs and co-counsel at the ACLU and at the law firm of Caldwell, Leslie and Proctor in demanding that the Board of Supervisors reverse its January decision and save the County from spending any time and sources on this matter when so many other urgent needs are confronting it, including 50,000 homeless individuals, rising hunger and poverty, a dysfunctional foster care system, inadequate health care, and a corrupt Sheriff’s Department.