FFRF of Georgia

Get rid of religious badge, FFRF suggests to Calif. sheriff

Written on 11/20/2020
Lauryn Seering

Ventura

You need to change your badge design, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is advising a California sheriff.

A county resident conveyed to the national state/church watchdog a concern over the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office’s badge, which depicts a religious mission with a Latin cross on top. As has been in the news, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors has recently been considering redesigning the current county seal to remove an image of Junipero Serra. The Spanish priest is infamous for his role in the establishment of the California mission system during the era of Spanish colonization, which was designed to convert and acculturate the Native California population to Catholicism and European culture. Native Californians who tried to escape were captured, and those who disobeyed were beaten. Indigenous beliefs and customs were also banned. The depiction of a religious mission and Latin cross on the badge bring up the same constitutional issues raised by the presence of Serra on the county seal.

The depiction of Serra is not only culturally tone deaf, but the inclusion of religious imagery on the official Ventura County Sheriff’s Office badge violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF emphasizes.

“Federal courts have ruled that religious symbols on official city logos or representations violate the Establishment Clause,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub. “The Ventura County Sheriff’s badge design is akin to numerous other unconstitutional municipal representations.”

In Friedman (1985) and Robinson (1995), the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for instance, considered not just the particular message conveyed by the actual elements of the seal, but also its pervasiveness: “The seal ... pervades the daily lives of county residents.” In its Robinson decision, it “therefore concluded that the seal violated the Establishment Clause.” Similarly, the Ventura County Sheriff’s badge is an official representation of the county prominently displayed on all of the deputies and no doubt throughout the Sheriff’s Office.

In addition to the unconstitutionality of the seal, FFRF recommends that as a matter of policy, the Sheriff’s Office should remove exclusionary religious images from its official representations. Changing the badge would show the citizens of Ventura County that their county and its leadership do not favor any one religion or belief system. Today, nearly 30 percent of adults in the United States. are non-Christian and 24 percent practice no religion at all. By remaining neutral on matters of religion, the Sheriff’s Office would embrace the diversity of its citizens, including non-Christian religious citizens and citizens who are nonreligious.

“The times they are a changin’ — and the country is changing, too,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s insensitive and increasingly anachronistic for a governmental entity that claims to represent all citizens to have on its badge a representation of the beliefs of only some of its citizens.”

That’s why FFRF is urging the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office to adopt a new representation for its badges that is truly inclusive.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 4,500 members and a chapter in California. It's purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.