Friday, September 07, 2007

Jesus gets company on Slidell courthouse wall

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Confucius, Hammurabi and more than a dozen other historical figures have joined Jesus Christ on the wall at Slidell City Court in a move that officials believe will reassure visitors that it has always been the court's intent to showcase the people who helped to create the laws of civilized nations.

Officials mounted the additional portraits Friday, one week before a scheduled court hearing at which the Louisiana ACLU will ask a federal judge to remove the Jesus portrait.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the court, the city of Slidell, St. Tammany Parish and Judge Jim Lamz, saying the portrait and lettering underneath that says, "To know peace, obey these laws," violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a mandate calling for the separation of church and state.

"The idea here is there never has been an ulterior motive, as is alleged by the ACLU," said Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization that is representing the court. "They wanted to erect an artistic display to emphasize the importance of following the law to maintain a peaceful society. The expanded display conveys that same message in a way that is unmistakable."

Click here for the rest.

You know, Johnson's probably right with his no "ulterior motive" assertion. That is, for many of the faithful, especially down here in the deep South, Jesus is a towering cultural symbol, representing far more than than salvation, which means that, symbolically, there is very little difference between the law, morality, and Christianity. I get that. They didn't mean anything bad by putting up a picture of Jesus and only Jesus on government property. But that doesn't get them off the hook. Furthermore, this is a courthouse we're talking about, full of people with law degrees. They should know better.

It's actually pretty simple. The first amendment to the Constitution plainly says that the government will not establish a state religion. Numerous Supreme Court cases have made it clear that "establish" also means favoritism. No government entity can favor any one religion over another, or over secular points of view for that matter. That's why students can pray or not pray in school, but teachers and administrators cannot lead or require such prayer non-prayer. It's why depictions of Christian icons are only acceptable on government property when it is clear that they are not intended to favor Christianity, as with this new iconographic context at the Slidell Courthouse. Simple. Even a televangelist can understand.

So the ACLU's lawsuit continues, but they're going to have a tougher time winning, what with Jesus now being depicted among both secular lawgivers and those from other religions. But it's just as well. Apparently, America desperately needs the ACLU to keep these people honest. I'm sure the civil rights organization will keep firing away.

Just as I'm sure that god fearing Christians with no "ulterior motive" will keep pushing the envelope.