Capitol Alert

Pope’s visit delays vote to ditch Junipero Serra statue

A statue of Fray Junipero Serra, the founder of The California Missions, is outside the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in San Luis Obispo, photographed June 20, 2012.
A statue of Fray Junipero Serra, the founder of The California Missions, is outside the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in San Luis Obispo, photographed June 20, 2012. acruz@sacbee.com

In deference to the Pope’s coming visit to the United States, a state senator has halted for the year a measure seeking to replace a statue in Congress of Father Junípero Serra with one of astronaut Sally Ride.

A prominent figure in early California history, Serra has faced criticism for his treatment of Native Americans. Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced a nonbinding resolution seeking to swap a Serra statue in the United States Capitol’s statuary hall with one of Ride. Every state gets two statues; California’s other is of Ronald Reagan.

Lara, a Catholic, said he was pausing “as somebody who respects people’s faith” and “to pay respect to one of world’s religious leaders,” with Pope Francis scheduled to canonize Serra during a September visit. Lara plans to take up the measure again next year.

“We’re going to come back in January, we’re going to get this done, and we’re going to celebrate when we finally have our first woman honored and enshrined,” Lara said. “I think it’s important for LGBT youth and women to see themselves in the nation’s Capitol.”

Senate Joint Resolution 4 has cleared the Senate and awaits an Assembly floor vote. The California Catholic Conference opposes the measure and Republicans have objected that it politicizes Serra, though Lara said the resolution seeks not to discount Serra’s historical importance but to “modernize our symbols.”

“Father Serra’s not going to just miraculously disappear from California,” Lara said.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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