Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought up a lawsuit Tuesday asking for the removal of a portrait from a Louisiana courthouse that depicts Jesus Christ.
Attorneys from the Christian law group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) have agreed to represent the town of Slidell, La., and the parish of St. Tammany against the ACLU, expressing that the painting contains universal values such as equality and justice and in no way breaks the Establishment Clause.
The event follows a protest from 250 Slidell residents last Tuesday to protect the artwork.
"The First Amendment allows public officials, and not the ACLU, to decide what is appropriate for acknowledging our nation's religious history and heritage. The painting clearly delivers an inclusive message of equal justice under the law," explained ADF senior legal counsel Mike Johnson in a statement. "It is mind-boggling that the ACLU would oppose such a widely cherished idea simply because it is offended by the image in the painting."
ACLU lawyers originally threatened the courthouse with a lawsuit a few weeks ago expressing that the depiction of Jesus broke the Establishment Clause and that it promoted a specific religious message through a public building. After an outcry from local residents, ACLU members gave a two-week extension to court officials.
Last Tuesday, 250 Slidell citizens gathered outside the courthouse in an attempt to rally support for the painting. They explained that the painting has been there since the building first opened in 1997 and has never caused a problem and that it fairly represents the majority of the community.
"The people of Slidell are not going to sit back and take the stuff that got dished out," said State Rep. A.G. Crowe (R-Slidell), who organized the event, according to CitizenLink.
Now that the required time has passed, ACLU lawyers filed lawsuit to back up their original threats.
According to ADF representatives, the painting is legally acceptable, however, because it contains messages regarding equality and justice under the law. These are highly held beliefs by all Americans.
"The ideas expressed in this painting aren't specific to any one faith, and they certainly don't establish a single state religion," added Johnson. "The reason Americans enjoy equal justice is because we are all 'created equal, endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.' This painting is a clear reflection of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence."
The ADF attorney also has pointed out several monuments that contain Christian messages in them that have been long standing throughout history. The Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials all talk specifically about the importance of God and the Washington Monument reads "Laus Deo" on its apex, meaning "Praise be to God."
These monuments are clear examples that the Establishment Clause cannot bar something just because they have some biblical references in them.
"Using the same arguments it brings to Slidell, will the ACLU advocate sandblasting the walls and halls of our nation's capitol, including the chambers of the Supreme Court?" concluded Johnson in a statement.
ADF attorneys have also expressed a frustration with the ACLU over similar attempts in Louisiana to block non-religion specific material, because the situations included small instances of Christian reference. Examples included calling for school board members to be arrested for not stopping a student from praying at a school event and blocking a private memorial for Hurricane Katrina that contained a cross.