A city courthouse in Louisiana recently mounted portraits of 15 of history's preeminent lawgivers alongside its painting of Jesus Christ in an attempt to appease a legal group trying to force the removal of the portrait.
The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has not been persuaded to drop the lawsuit against the city of Slidell and maintains that the display violates the separation of church and state.
"The question of whether Jesus needs to come down is the same question," Marjorie Esman, ACLU's new executive director, said Wednesday, according to The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. "You can't cure a problem by dressing it up."
Slidell City Court in Louisiana added the framed portraits of famous legislators to its print gallery including those of Confucius, Hammurabi, Moses, Charlemagne, Sir William Blackstone, and others last Friday, one week before a scheduled court hearing at which the Louisiana ACLU will ask a federal judge to remove the Jesus portrait.
"The purpose of the display has always been to use art to emphasize the importance of following the law in order to have a peaceful society. Slidell officials believe this expansion should reassure courthouse users or visitors that this is and always has been the legitimate purpose of the display," said Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) senior legal council Mike Johnson in a statement.
ADF is a legal alliance which defends and advocates for religious liberties. Attorneys at ADF are representing Slidell City Court Judge James Lamz, the city of Slidell, and the parish of St. Tammany.
The ACLU had filed a lawsuit in July claiming "mental anguish and emotional distress" over the Jesus portrait and asking a federal court to order its removal.
"It's a clear constitutional violation," said Katie Schwartzmann, staff attorney of the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, in June, according to AP.
ADF's Johnson, however, argued that "[t]he First Amendment allows public officials, and not the ACLU, to decide what is appropriate for acknowledging our nation's legal and cultural heritage."
"The constitution does not prohibit public buildings from memorializing the great figures from our history," he added.
The painting of Jesus Christ has been on display at the courthouse for more than a decade. Alongside the 16 portraits are a reproduction of the U.S. Constitution and a mounted explanation of the different figures in the prints.
"The explanations address the importance of the figures in the display in contributing to the foundation of laws that govern our land," said Johnson. "Citizens can find similar historical and educational renderings in many public buildings and courthouses throughout the nation."
Johnson pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court Building as example, where marble friezes of "great lawgivers in history" are on display.
"It seems that the ACLU, if unchecked, will continue its barrage of legal attacks until every one of those historical references is sandblasted from existence" warned Johnson.
ADF has many times defended communities in South Louisiana against ACLU lawsuits, including after Hurricane Katrina when the ACLU sued to block a privately funded memorial to storm victims because it included a cross.
Christian Post reporter Eric Young in Washington contributed to this report.