VENTURA, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic legal experts are saying the debate over St. Junípero Serra has crossed a line.
Thomas More Society lawyers sent Ventura city and county officials a demand letter on Wednesday warning them that their removal of the St. Serra statue from outside city hall and their threat to remove the saint's image not only from law enforcement badges but also from the city's seal evidence unconstitutional hostility to the Catholic religion.
Charles S. LiMandri and Jeffrey M. Trissell, attorneys for the Thomas More Society, declared their purpose.
"We write to inform you that should Ventura remove Fr. Serra from its seal, its police badges or any other similar prominent municipal location, we will bring a claim seeking to enjoin such conduct under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution," stated the lawyers.
The 31-page demand letter provides a comprehensive historical and legal background to the controversy. The letter also adds several exhibits, including Abp. Jose H. Gomez's own letter to the faithful for the memorial of St. Junipero Serra.
Christine Niles, a senior producer at Church Militant and licensed attorney, says the demand letter is worthy of broad distribution.
"I encourage everyone to read the demand letter. It clearly lays out what's at stake and outlines the anti-Catholic attacks that have taken place since the death of George Floyd," Niles explained. "What's clear is that the destruction of saint statues and other sacred symbols have little to do with racism and everything to do with anti-Catholic bigotry, and Catholics need to fight back through lawful means to ensure our rights are protected under the Constitution."
In early June, an online petition was posted calling for the removal of St. Serra's statue from where it had been on display in front of Ventura's city hall since 1936. After weeks of protests and hours of city council meetings, the statue was removed for "safekeeping" on July 23.
LiMandri isn't buying the argument, especially since the city council also voted to remove the saint's statue inside city hall. He calls out the legal principle involved.
"This legal reasoning appears suspect — as courts look to the real motivation, not the purported one — and it appears to have very little application to Ventura's concurrent decision to also remove the statue of Fr. Serra inside city hall," LiMandri points out.
LiMandri told Church Militant why these actions are so harmful.
"Removing a Catholic statue is an attack on our Faith. Others find it unsettling as well. It's an attack on the community's identity, uprooting people from their heritage," expressed LiMandri.
LiMandri has considerable experience navigating these legal waters. In his demand letter, he provided city officials with information about his background.
"Our firm was lead counsel in defending the Mt. Soledad Cross in San Diego — which proudly still stands today," he wrote.
The Mt. Soledad Cross is an example of another Christian symbol that became a community landmark and was attacked. The San Diego Union-Tribune quantified the years of controversy and LiMandri's successful defense of it.
"More than 25 years of lawsuits, court rulings, aborted sales and property transfers over the landmark Mt. Soledad cross in La Jolla have finally come to an end, closing one of the longest legal battles over religious symbols on public property in the country," the newspaper reported.
If that victory didn't get city officials' attention, LiMandri used the pocketbook argument, letting them know that a lawsuit would not be in the community's financial interest.
"We have extensive experience in ensuring that our attorneys' fees are paid when we prevail," he wrote to the city's leaders.
LiMandri hopes, however, that it won't come to that. But if it does, he is ready to reach out to both Abp. Gomez and the archdiocese of Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Robert Barron, both of whom have been involved in the Serra statue wars.
In addition to the wars over the saint's statues, LiMandri has also been in the thick of the abortion wars. He's defending pro-life activist David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress in Daleiden's battle with Planned Parenthood.
Daleiden created a phantom tissue-procurement company and went undercover in 2014 at the National Abortion Federation's annual meeting in San Francisco.
He recorded meetings with Planned Parenthood doctors at various restaurants in Los Angeles and at Planned Parenthood's annual conferences throughout 2015. Daleiden is now facing both civil and criminal legal challenges in connection with the recordings.