SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written a letter to Chief Ben Raymond and Shreveport Police Department, requesting that they take down a painting depicting Jesus and remove a series of poems.
According to an issued document, a concerned community member 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 says they have 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 emphasized to SPD in the letter.
“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 wrote to Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond.
“It is inappropriate for the department to display this religious content because it conveys government support for religion.”
FFRF says like the Ten Commandments posting in county buildings in McCreary and the crèche display on county land in Allegheny, the display is unconstitutional under the precedent of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). 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.
According to the foundation, 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,” said FFRF.
To avoid further Establishment Clause concerns, FFRF says they are 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.”