Judge bans Christian cross from Los Angeles County seal

The smog-shrouded Los Angeles skyline is seen in this file photo from May 31, 2015. The latest US report says this current period in time is "the warmest in the history of modern civilization" (AFP Photo/MARK RALSTON) (AFP/File)

Los Angeles (AFP) - A federal judge in California has ruled that including a small Christian cross on the official seal of Los Angeles County is unconstitutional, siding with civil liberties advocates.

Thursday's decision, following a two-year legal battle, was handed down by US District Judge Christina Snyder, who said that including the religious emblem in the government symbol "places the county's power, prestige and purse behind a single religion, Christianity."

The case erupted in 2014 when the county had the cross drawn on top of the San Gabriel Mission which appears in the logo.

The move reversed a decision by officials a decade earlier to remove the cross from the seal, amid threats of legal action by various groups opposing the inclusion of the crucifix on the county symbol.

The LA county seal appears on flags and official stationery and government buildings across Los Angeles County.

Supporters of keeping the cross on the mission in the seal said it is a historically accurate symbol, given California's early settlement by Franciscan missionaries from Spain.

They also noted that courts have upheld the constitutionality of the phrases "in God We Trust" on US currency and "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Thursday's ruling is a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the suit.

Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California and attorney Linda Burrow who represented plaintiffs in the case said in a statement Thursday that they were "heartened" by the ruling.

"It recognizes that Los Angeles is a diverse county comprised of adherents of hundreds of faiths as well as non-believers, all of whom are entitled to be treated with equal dignity by their government," they said.