Slidell Mayor Ben Morris, with my emphasis:
"Our money has God's name on it. The Pledge of Allegiance has God's name on it. Congress opens up with a prayer. And they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, that this is fostering religion. I don't think it fosters anything. I don't think that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind," Mayor Ben Morris said. [LINK]
Slidell Mayor Ben Morris says the city will fight the ACLU. " Guess again boys, You're in for a fight. As diverse we are, Slidell is an All American city. We will not cut and run. File you damn lawsuit.' said Morris. [LINK]
"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. [LINK]Because Ben Morris, the Mayor of Slidell, the executive of the city, equates Christian heritage with American heritage and the heritage of Slidell, and says so publicly and vociferously, one may conclude that to attack Jesus is to attack the City of Slidell, an “All American City.” Extending the analogy, one may conclude that the mayor of Slidell is saying to attack Jesus is to attack America.
If this is not the establishment of a religion by government, or at least the preference of one religion, I don’t know what is.
City Court Judge Jim Lamz knows better. His statements, and those of representatives from his court, minimize the role religion plays in the their desire to keep Slidell Jesus up:
"Due to the display's historical place in the courthouse, I explored options to obtain a definitive ruling on the constitutionality of the display without an adversarial court battle," he said. "I could find none." [LINK]
"It's more than just a picture of Jesus," [court spokeswoman Ann] Barks said. "It might have more to do with the business of the court than purely religious reasons." [LINK]
"The ideas expressed in this painting aren't specific to any one faith, and they certainly don't establish a single state religion," he [Mike Johnson, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund] said. "The reason Americans enjoy equal justice is because we are all created equal, endowed by (our) Creator with certain unalienable rights. This painting is a clear reflection of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence." [LINK]What we have here are two contradictory reasons for Slidell Jesus to stay up: It should stay up because it is not religious; it should stay up because it is religious.
The “not religious” reason is held by those tasked with defending Slidell Jesus in court. If Slidell Jesus is not religious, but historical, then it does not violate the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment and may remain exhibited in the lobby of the Slidell City Court.
The “religious” reason is held by Mayor Ben Morris, speaking for Joe and Jane Slidell. He equates (or conflates) his Christian heritage with Slidell’s heritage, even extending it to represent America’s heritage. To him, putting up a picture of Jesus is like putting up an American flag – not in a historical sense, but in a truly patriotic sense. He is saying that America’s history *is* religious, specifically Christian, and that’s why Slidell Jesus should stay up.
Joe and Jane Slidell are the crux of this decision. We know what the politicians and the ACLU think. We’ve seen the press conferences. But, what does the average person think when they walk into Slidell City Court and look up at Slidell Jesus?
It is safe to assume that the people who want the picture to come down look up and see a religious image. That’s why they want it to come down.
And, after reading about the protest rally last week, I think it is safe to assume that the people who want the picture to stay also look up and see a religious image:
"You know, (the ACLU) is picking on a small community," said Randy Lee, 60, of Slidell. A self-described Christian fundamentalist, he gripped a hand-lettered sign that read "In God We Trust."So, pretty much everyone looks up and sees a religious image. But what about the message? The words written in Cyrillic… are they a universal message about judging wisely as a city court certainly should?
"Christians are seen as very passive. It's time for Christian people to stand up and say, 'Hey!'"
The rally lasted about an hour and was peppered with prayer and shouts of "Hallelujah!" and "Praise Jesus!" Toward the end of her speech, the Rev. Kathleen Javery-Bacon, of the Holy Ghost and Fire Revival Ministries in Slidell, raised her arm to the sky while chanting, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus" as the crowd echoed her cry.
Who cares. I can’t read Cyrillic. Can you? If you can, that's actually pretty cool. I'm sure it is a useful skill.
But if you are not there to translate for the average Slidellian, he or she will look up and see a picture of Jesus holding a book. Mostly likely, he or she will assume that book is the Bible. Then, under the Bible-wielding Jesus, he or she will read, “TO KNOW PEACE, OBEY THESE LAWS,” and can only conclude that “these laws” refer to the Bible.
And Ben Morris is okay with that.
I like to think the Constitution isn’t.
One more thing. For those who can read Cyrillic, they know that the phrases in Slidell Jesus’ book are Gospel verses:
According to the court's research, one quotation is from John 7:24. In the King James version of the Bible, it reads: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."Sure, they talk about judgment. But, knowing a little bit about Christianity, that word “judgment” isn't talking about whether or not you go to jail, but whether or not you go to heaven - or go to hell like me.
The second quotation is from Matthew 7:2: "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."