Sunday, July 01, 2007

Jesus in the Slidell Courthouse

Looks like the ACLU and the City of Slidell are gearing up for an Establishment Clause battle in the courts.

It appears that a portrait of Jesus hanging in the Slidell City Court's lobby is the subject of contention. Of course, the ACLU is requesting that it be removed and is threatening a lawsuit if it is not. And Slidell City officials are refusing to remove it. We may, once again, be heading for the Supreme Court on the subject of Church/State separation.

You want a taste of some of what the principles are saying in this battle? Here's something from the City of Slidell officialdom:

Slidell Mayor Ben Morris condemned the ACLU in harsher tones, while invoking the memory of Hurricane Katrina. As he spoke, damage from the storm -- long watermarks and cracked plaster -- was clearly visible on the courthouse behind him.

"I fight daily with FEMA for the recovery of our city, and now we must fight these tyrants, this American Taliban, who seek to destroy our culture and our heritage," Morris said.
Now here's something from the ACLU:
Booth expressed frustration with Slidell officials' criticism of the ACLU for releasing its letter objecting to the Jesus picture to the news media at the same time it was sent to the court.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. "This is established Supreme Court law. The ACLU isn't making this up. I would very much like to see more of a reasoned legal analysis than complaints about how we sent them the letter." ...

Booth said it was ironic that Morris would condemn a theocracy such as the Taliban rule of Afghanistan while defending a religious picture in a public building.
Now, my own evaluation of the situation? Well, at the personal level, I don't find the mere presence of the picture in the Court lobby to be so troublesome. It's not like the picture is being actively used to indoctrinate visitors to the court in a particular faith. So, in my mind, it's no big deal. But, that's just me. Now, that said, if it were a big deal to one of my fellow citizens, for whatever reason, I also would have no qualms about removing it. It's not like removing it is going to negatively affect my faith, so what's the big deal in taking it down? This is the question I ask: what does taking the picture down mean? All it means is a full secularization of the Court space. I can live with that because that has absolutely no bearing on my constitutional right to practice my faith. To me, that is the crux of the debate. As long as we live in a free society where I can go to Church on Sunday, and where I can both practice and live my faith freely, taking down a picture of Jesus in a courtroom is of no consequence. How others see this as an attack on one's right to practice a particular religious faith is beyond me; but that seems to be where the anger and frustration comes from. It strikes me as odd that Christians feel assaulted in our society, especially when Churches are full on Sunday and when nobody really bothers people in the actual practice of their faith. The usual over-the-top, angry, and defensive reaction by Christians to such things seems Pharisaical when one considers what this reaction really constitutes: making faith a political issue and forcing public conformity to even the most insignificant public references to it or expressions of it.

I ask: What is really the harm to faith in taking the picture down? My answer: none. In taking down the picture, what damage is done to the freedom of one's ability to practice any religion he or she chooses? My answer: none. I am neither more nor less likely to be a stronger and better Christian because there is a picture of Jesus in the lobby of the Slidell Courthouse. And I assume that the administration of justice in the Slidell courthouse is not affected one way or the other because there is a picture of Jesus in the lobby. So, given that, if taking the picture down removes a source of public contention among citizens, why not do it? In fact, I kinda see being willing to take down the picture as a gesture of Christian charity.

But, as usual, we'll have to let the angry ideologues on both sides yell at each other about it. And I guess we'll have to endure once again the spectacle of it.

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