Monday, September 10, 2007


Mohammed Saves!

The Slidell, Louisiana case of a portrait of Jesus and the Bible hung in the lobby of the City Courthouse over a sign that says "To Know Peace, Obey These Laws" is apparently over.

After a hearing that was scheduled to address the issue of whether a temporary injunction should be granted, Federal District Judge Ivan Lemelle has apparently ruled that, while the original display was unconstitutional, the present display, with the images of fifteen other people in "legal history" added, including Charlemagne, Napoleon, and King Louis IX of France, meets constitutional muster.

The image which should be most instructive to the good people of southern Louisiana is that of Mohammed, who is shown holding the Koran.

Most amusing is the response of Mike Johnson, the lawyer from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization representing the City, who said "I think the message today is the ACLU cannot bully local officials" ... except to the extent that it can get those officials' Christian legal defense firm to advise them to install a picture extolling the role Mohammed and the Koran had in the American legal system.

Also amusing was the continued record of honesty and openness displayed by the Righteous Right in pursuing its agenda:

The former judge who bought the picture said in a sworn statement that he had no idea that it had any religious significance. "To me at the time it appeared to be a depiction of a lawgiver," retired Judge James R. Strain Jr. said.

Lemelle, who noted several times during the hearing that the picture showed someone with a halo, said he wasn't questioning Strain's veracity.

"But it's a halo. You can tell him I said that," he told Johnson.

Judge Jones, in his decision in the Kitzmiller case, noted:

It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

Sounds like the same can be said of people in favor of touting their religious beliefs at taxpayer expense.

It's not really clear why the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU would accept this compromise but it is notable that the Judge also said that the City could be liable to the ACLU for its legal fees to date because the group's lawsuit was what prompted the change in the display. On the other hand, that would tend to shift the risk of bearing its legal costs back onto the ACLU, if the new display is found constitutional.

Too bad. I'm sure that, if the trial had gone forward, it would have been a great source of amusement.

Via Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

"It's not really clear why the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU would accept this compromise..."

That's actually an easy one. Because it's secular, and Jesus is displayed alongside Mohammed and Menes, et al.

Government endorsement of one religion to the exclusion of others is one of the main tenets of the separation concept. So if the display includes major icons from other major religious and secular movements, it has almost always been considered acceptable by the courts in other tests.

There is no obvious government entanglement with a particular religion per se.

Note, the updated display, which includes 15 other historical figures, appears to be based on a display at the U.S. Supreme Court, which includes 18 lawgivers: Moses, Charlemagne, Napoleon, King Louis IX, Mohammed, Sir William Blackstone, just like in Slidell, along with Menes, Hammurabis, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, King John, Draco, Confucius, Octavian, Justinian, Hugo Grotius, and John Marshall.

I'm willing to bet that the other characters on the wall in Slidell come directly from that list also. I'm just curious about which ones they actually left off.

While the Alliance defense fund appears to feel they have won a victory over the evil ACLU, they seem to have not noticed that they've had to drop the exclusivity of the Jesus Christ display for an inclusive, historical, secular display which includes Mohammed and Confucius among others.

Like you, I am amused, indeed.
I meant to also say, though, that I understand the puzzlement about why Jesus should be included in that list of "lawgivers and leaders".

Certainly, he sticks out. The U.S. Supreme Court display does not have a Jesus Christ in the bunch.
No, displaying lots of sectarian images doesn't make them secular, it just dilutes the sectarian impact and, in concert with secular images, can convey a non-sectarian message overall.

But that quibble aside, the reason it isn't clear to me why they would drop it is that the case as it stands is almost identical to the facts in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., where the Court struck down a 10 Commandments display after a number of attempts to tinker it into constitutionality. It was a 5-4 decision before Roberts and Alito joined the Court, but such considerations don't always deter the ACLU and, on the other hand, there is pretty clear evidence of lying on the part of the City officials, which could keep the Court from makng this instance an occasion to reverse long-standing precedent.

As for Jesus being a lawgiver, I suppose we could try enacting the Beatitudes into law, but that would horrify the Righteous Right almost to death.
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