Los Angeles County was under assault last week from the American Civil Liberties Union, threatening a lawsuit unless the County removes a small cross from its seal. Stories of the ACLU attacking America's moral beliefs and institutions—from the Boy Scouts to local communities which dare display a nativity scene at Christmas—have become so common that many Americans merely shrug their shoulders instead of raising an eyebrow. But these battles are worth paying attention to, because they lay bare the radical "progressive" agenda driving the ACLU.
The Southern California ACLU chose to pick this particular fight after its recent victory in Redlands, California, where they threatened to sue about a cross and a church on that city's seal. City officials were aware of ACLU successes in similar cases in Illinois and New Mexico, and, facing a budget deficit of $1.2 million, they capitulated, replacing the cross and church with a tree and house.
ACLU supporters then called attention to the L.A. County seal, which includes a symbol of the Hollywood Bowl, a cross, and two stars. This panel of the seal reflects the Christian roots of the county named after "the queen of the angels," as well as the Hollywood Cross, which has stood near the Hollywood Bowl for more than eighty years and is one of LA County's most familiar icons.
But while the seal is historically correct and geographically correct, three of the five Los Angeles County supervisors agreed with the ACLU that it is not politically correct. The cross must go. Mike Antonovich, one of the two dissenting votes on the County Board of Supervisors, is leading the resistance against the ACLU's bullying tactics, emphasizing the seal's constitutionality and rightness, as well as the massive costs of replacing it on stationery, badges, and signs. Whether he can prevail over the minds of his fellow supervisors remains to be seen.
What is it that drives the ACLU to attack public symbols of religious faith and morality with such vengeance?
From its inception, a powerful faction within the ACLU has been determined to remake America along "progressive," if not communist lines. ACLU founder, Roger Nash Baldwin, had close ties with communist movements in the U.S. Two of the ACLU's first board members, William Z. Foster and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, would go on to become prominent members of the Communist Party USA. In the 1920s, Baldwin developed a deep admiration for the recently founded USSR. His biographer, Robert C. Cottrell, writes that Baldwin, "like many other Western intellectuals, seemed to view the Soviet leaders as superprogressives of a sort."
Making America into a "progressive" or proto-Soviet state would require two fundamental changes: First, constitutional limitations on government power had to be removed. Second, moral, free, self-sufficient citizens needed to be transformed into needy, subservient citizens dependent on government. Removing God from the American mind advances both goals.
The distinction between a government of limited powers and one of unlimited powers rests on the source of rights. If men are endowed with rights from God, then the power of government ought to be commensurate with its purpose, which is limited to the protection of those God-given rights. If rights come from government, on the other hand, then any limitation on government power is a limitation on rights. It is no coincidence that the worst modern tyrannies have been rigidly atheistic, amassing power by claiming the more power government has, the better off the people under it will be.
People who are fiercely independent, who take care of themselves, their families, and their businesses, don't like government bossing them around or trying to nanny them. A culture of dependency and victim-hood must be created if big, "progressive" government is to be successful. The best way to create that culture is to sap the moral will of the people, and break the first institution of moral instruction, the family.
In America, religion and morality have been mutually reinforcing. Anyone seeking to corrupt the morals of America would want to drive religion out of the public square. George Washington once remarked, "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." He warned about those who purport to be patriots, but who undermine "these great pillars of human happiness."
But as Washington worried about the prospect of America losing religion and morality, the ACLU delights in it. As its record shows, the ACLU will not rest until every remnant of moral faith has been jettisoned from the public square and the public mind.
The fight in Los Angeles County is about much more than the appearance of its seal. It presents to us the question of how we understand ourselves. Will we look up to the "laws of nature and of nature's God," as stated in the Declaration of Independence, for the source of our freedom, our rights, and all that is good? Or will we look to government? The position of the ACLU is clear. Let us pray, in public places, that their view does not prevail.