Louisiana city sued
over painting of Jesus
in courthouse lobby
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
AP from thnt.com Online, July 4, 2007
NEW ORLEANS — The American
Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Slidell on Tuesday for displaying a
painting of Jesus in a courthouse lobby, saying it violates the constitutional
separation of church and state.
The ACLU sued after the Slidell City Court refused to voluntarily remove the
picture and a message below it that reads: "To Know Peace, Obey These
Laws." The ACLU says the portrait — an image of Jesus presenting the New
Testament — is a religious icon of the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity.
"We did not file this lawsuit because the ACLU is anti-religion. ... We did file
this lawsuit because we believe this display is clearly in violation of the
law," said Vincent Booth, president and acting executive director of the
Louisiana ACLU chapter.
The suit was filed on behalf of an unidentified person who complained to the
ACLU about the picture. Named as defendants were the city of Slidell, St.
Tammany Parish and City Judge James Lamz.
On Saturday, Lamz said the picture would stay up unless a federal judge ordered
it removed. He said he didn't believe the portrait violates the
Constitution, but the issue should be decided in federal court.
Before refusing to take the painting down, Lamz consulted Douglas Laycock, a
professor at the University of Michigan Law School who has argued before the
Laycock said he told Lamz that the legal issues in the case aren't clear-cut and
could set legal precedent.
The painting has been on display at the courthouse for nearly a decade and
hadn't provoked any complaints prior to the ACLU's recent objections, said
Michael Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian
civil-rights group representing the city and parish.
Johnson, whose group is often at odds with the ACLU, said the painting sends an
inclusive message of equal justice under the law.