ACLU sues over icon's display in La. courthouse
Jul. 4, 2007 12:00 AM
NEW ORLEANS - The American Civil Liberties Union sued
the city of Slidell, La., on Tuesday for displaying a
painting of Jesus in a courthouse lobby, saying it
violates the constitutional separation of church and
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, which is 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 of the Louisiana
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. St. Tammany Parish
is being sued because it partially funds the court,
the ACLU said.
On Saturday, Lamz said the picture would stay up
unless a federal judge ordered it removed.
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 Supreme Court.
Laycock said he told Lamz that the legal issues in the
case aren't clear-cut and could set legal precedent.
"I don't know how far the two sides will want to push
things," Laycock added.
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.