UPDATE: In a statement released on Tuesday, Martin Sullivan, director of The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, said a video depicting Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants will be removed from an exhibit at the museum.
"I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious," the statement read. "In fact, the artists's intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim. It was not the museum's intention to offend. We are removing the video today. The museum's statement at the exhibition's entrance, 'This exhibition contains mature themes,' will remain in place."
The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery is under fire for hosting an exhibit that is filled with homoerotic art, an image of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts and a video of Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants, outraging conservative leaders and prompting some Republican lawmakers to call for a congressional investigation.
“Absolutely we should look at their funds,” Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News.
“If they’ve got money to squander like this – of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing – then I think we should look at their budget.”
The video, “A Fire in My Belly,” is included in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit titled, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which is scheduled to run through the Christmas season.
National Portrait Gallery historian and exhibit co-curator David C. Ward told CNSNews.com, which first reported the story, that “A Fire in My Belly” reflects the “violent, disturbing and hallucinatory” aspects of the AIDS epidemic.
“Fire in My Belly is an example of political engagement in artistic form with the AIDS epidemic by an artist deeply concerned with the exploration of our response to that medical and societal calamity,” Ward said. “That it is violent, disturbing, and hallucinatory precisely replicates the impact of the disease itself on people and a society that could barely comprehend its magnitude.
Kingston saw it differently and called it, “In your face perversion paid for by tax dollars.”
And incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called it an "outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."
"When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time,” Cantor said through a spokesman.
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he condemned the use of taxpayer money for the exhibit but would not call for the removal of the exhibit.
"American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy," Boehner said. "While the amount of money involved may be small, it’s symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans’ hard-earned money at a time when one in every 10 Americans is out of work and our children’s future is being threatened by debt.
"Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington.”
The exhibit also drew the ire of Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who said it is “hate speech.” “This is clearly designed to offend,” he told Fox News.
“What concerns me is that the government is underwriting this assault on Christian sensibilities calculated to offend during the Christmas season.”
Susan Gibbs, executive director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington, told FoxNews.com she was unable to comment immediately on the issue and referred to Donohue's statement issued earlier in the day.
Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said, “This exhibition is a direct assault on Christianity and the timing – the Christmas season! – shows how offensive it is intended to be. This federally funded vulgarity by the Smithsonian Institution must come to an end immediately. How dare anyone use a federal facility – The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery no less – to exhibit such obscene materials ...
"We are also calling on Congress to launch a full investigation into the approval process of the Hide/Seek exhibit.
The Smithsonian declined numerous opportunities to comment on the controversy. Spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told the New York Post that it does not comment “on people’s opinions on art.” She also told the newspaper that while the museum receives funding from Congress, the exhibits are funded through private donations.
But Kingston refuted that assertion.
“For them to say this is not tax-funded is absurd,” he said, noting that 65 percent of the Smithsonian budget comes from taxpayers and that the National Portrait Gallery receives $5.8 million in tax dollars.
“If the art community wants to do it, they should do it on their own nickel, but they are doing it in a building that is paid for by the public, with staff that is on the federal payroll,” he said.
Kingston said he was not sure what form a congressional investigation would take, but he said some options included “calling them up in front of the Appropriations Committee, asking for some resignations, auditing all their budget – all their books.”
“We need to move in that direction,” he said. “As stewards of the tax dollars in these very difficult times, we don’t have the money to squander like this.”
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is "God Less America”.