SLIDELL, La. – A portrait of Jesus on the wall at Slidell City Court will remain up for now, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union, which calls it a violation of church-state separation.
Further investigation will be needed before court officials decide whether to remove the portrait on First Amendment grounds — and the court might not make a deadline demanded last week by the ACLU, court spokeswoman Ann Barks said.
"It's more than just a picture of Jesus," Barks said. "It might have more to do with the business of the court than purely religious reasons."
A priest Friday identified the image as a 16th century Russian Orthodox icon called "Christ the Savior," — most likely a reprint. In the picture, Jesus is shown holding open a book to display two pages, each with a biblical quotation about judging correctly and wisely. The quotations are written in Russian.
Since the ACLU's objection, the court's staff has been trying to track down who hung the picture in the court and why, Barks said. Having had the quotations on the book translated into English, court officials are not ready to concede that the display violates the constitutional clause forbidding the establishment of religion.
Besides the picture, the display includes the words: "To Know Peace, Obey These Laws." The ACLU wants both the picture and words removed.
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."
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."
An Orthodox priest said the quotations are appropriate for a place of justice.
"The writing on those books (Jesus) is holding is about judging rightly," said the Rev. John Vieages of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of America, who holds in Slidell. "It really does fit into a courtroom. Whoever put that there was well aware of what the writing meant."
Whether the quotations are relevant to the business of a court has nothing to do with whether the display is legal, said Katie Schwartzmann, staff attorney of the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU.
"It's a clear constitutional violation," she said Saturday."
The ACLU's letter to the court said the display "clearly gives the impression that only believers in the law of Jesus Christ will receive justice in that courthouse."
Barks said that to her knowledge, no one had ever complained to the court about the picture until the ACLU letter. Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU, said the group has received several complaints, one of them written.