Get rid of bigot from seal, FFRF urges Ventura County

Ventura Seal

The Freedom From Religion Foundation commends Ventura County, Calif., for the likely removal from its seal of a religious extremist who persecuted indigeneous people.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors is considering redesigning the official seal, which may include the elimination of an image of Father Junipero Serra that currently dominates it. Serra’s reputation has fallen from grace recently for his establishment of the California mission system during the era of Spanish colonization. The missions were designed to convert and acculturate the Native California population to Catholicism and European culture, essentially invading and enslaving them. Those who tried to escape were captured, and those who disobeyed were beaten. Indigenous beliefs and customs were banned. During the three-quarters of a century that the Catholic Spaniards ran California, one-third of the state’s Indians died due to the misrule and oppression.

A statue of Serra in Los Angeles was toppled two months ago. And there have been other recent instances of derecognition, including in Ventura County itself.

“In 2018, Stanford University removed Serra’s name from various campus buildings,” the Los Angeles Times reported on June 20. “On Thursday, officials in Ventura announced that they would remove the statue that stands in front of Ventura City Hall and place it in ‘a more appropriate non-public location.’ On Friday, protesters in San Francisco toppled a statue of Serra in Golden Gate Park.”

Serra’s visage also should be removed from the Ventura County seal, FFRF affirms.

“The inclusion of a religious figure on the official Ventura County seal violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. “The seal signals an endorsement of Christianity.”

Federal courts have ruled that religious symbols on official city logos or representations violate the Establishment Clause, FFRF reminds the county. The Ventura County seal design is akin to numerous other municipal representations found unconstitutional. Though many of these cases focused on Latin crosses on official city seals, a prominent religious figure on an official county seal would be found unconstitutional under the same reasoning.

And regardless of the unconstitutionality of the seal, Ventura County should remove exclusionary religious images from its official representations as a matter of policy, FFRF insists.

Changing the seal would show Ventura County citizens that their county and its leadership do not favor any one religion or belief system, particularly a genocidal figure. Nearly 30 percent of adults in the United States are currently non-Christian, and 24 percent practice no religion at all. By remaining neutral on matters of religion, the county would embrace the diversity of its citizens.

That’s why FFRF urges Ventura County to adopt a new representation that is inclusive of all citizens.

“Junipero Serra was a deeply problematic figure who spearheaded the persecution of Native Americans for religious reasons,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is a California-born member of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribe. “Ventura County would do well to get rid of this racist image in this time of heightened sensitivity toward historical injustices.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit with more than 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 4,400 members and a chapter in California. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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