The Freedom From Religion Foundation is requesting that the Shreveport, La., police department take down a painting depicting Jesus.
A concerned community member has contacted the state/church watchdog to report that a portrait of Christianity’s messiah is prominently displayed in a police department hallway where members of the public wait to be interviewed by police officers. FFRF has also been informed about a series of poems titled “My Story of Jesus” that have been posted in common workspaces.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government endorsement of religion, FFRF emphasizes to the Shreveport Police Department.
“The Supreme Court has said time and again, that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson writes to Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond. “It is inappropriate for the department to display this religious content because it conveys government support for religion.”
Like the Ten Commandments posting in county buildings in McCreary and the crèche display on county land in Allegheny, this display is unconstitutional under the precedent of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), FFRF asserts. Any reasonable observer would view the display as an endorsement of religion by the department. In 2013, FFRF successfully sued to remove a painting of Jesus from an Ohio middle school, with parties agreeing to a financial settlement requiring the school to pay the plaintiffs a combination of damages and legal fees totaling $95,000.
Such displays also convey a message to non-Christians that they are “outsiders, not full members of the political community and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,” to quote the Supreme Court. The Shreveport Police Department serves all citizens regardless of their personal religious beliefs. Neither the portrait of Jesus nor the poetry relate to legitimate government business and both send a divisive message to many citizens, including the 26 percent of American adults who identify as nonreligious.
To avoid further Establishment Clause concerns, FFRF is asking the Shreveport Police Department that the portrait and poems be immediately removed.
“An open profession of Christianity from an entity sworn to serve and protect is unconstitutional and divisive,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Shreveport Police Department serves all of the town residents, not just Christians.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including in Louisiana. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.