Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LA'S CROSS....I don't know if this story ever made it out of Southern California, but for those who haven't heard, the ACLU recently sued the county of Los Angeles to get it to remove a Christian cross from its official seal.

Now, as it happens, I think the ACLU has better things to do and should let stuff like this go. At the same time, though, I also get a little tired of revisionist "history" like this from Joel Kotkin in the LA Times today:

The whole battle smacks of a kind of amnesia about the roots of urban places....The earliest cities of Mesopotamia, for example, were themselves largely directed by priests, who established coherent rules for the community.

Kotkin goes on to invoke Peru, China, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Baghdad, Cairo, and, of course, the California missions. Unfortunately, there's one thing he doesn't tell you: LA County's cross is in no way a part of any long-rooted local tradition at all.

Rather, just like "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Confederate battle flag motif used in Southern state flags, it was a belated addition of the Eisenhower era. Both the cross and "under God" were added as part of a wave of religious iconography that swept the nation in the 1950s in response to fears of "godless communism," while the Confederate flag was added to demonstrate contempt for the growing civil rights movement and to rally local support for continued enforcement of Jim Crow laws.

That's the historical backdrop for LA County's cross, not some mystical attachment to religion's place in urban history or even a celebration of the Catholic church missionaries who founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Seora la Reina de los Angeles de Porcincula in 1781.

Like I said, I think the ACLU is wasting its time with stuff like this, but I'm also tired of hearing patently absurd implications that these icons have been around practically since our country was founded and therefore form a core part of our historical tradition. The fact is that they were added 50 years ago for specific reasons, and they're no more a "tradition" than the stucco house in Garden Grove that I grew up in.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, this is also what distinguishes these things from equally religious symbols like "In God We Trust" on our coins or the name of Los Angeles itself. Those things really are rooted in longstanding historical tradition and deserve their place as genuine reminders of our heritage. Johnny-come-latelies from the 50s just aren't in the same league.

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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