The Thomas More Law Center brought the lawsuit on behalf of Thomas O’Connor, a Washburn professor of 39 years, and Andrew Strobl, a senior at Washburn, after the university refused to act on complaints by numerous Catholics, including the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, and remove the sculpture, entitled “Holier than Thou.” The lawsuit alleged that the sculpture conveyed hostility toward the Catholic faith in violation of the Establishment Clause.- A federal judge in Kansas has ruled that Washburn University did not violate the constitution by prominently displaying a sculpture that depicts a Catholic bishop with a grotesque facial expression, wearing a miter that resembles a phallus.
But university president Jerry Farley defended the display as fulfilling a purpose of art: “to engage us intellectually and emotionally.”
In his decision, the judge maintained that Washburn had a secular purpose for displaying this sculpture because “it functions to aesthetically enhance Washburn’s campus, broaden the educational experiences [and] increase the intellectual capacities of Washburn’s students.”
The judge concluded that the sculpture “would [not] cause a reasonable observer to believe that [Washburn] endorsed hostility towards the Catholic religion.”
Robert Muise, the Law Center attorney handling this case, called the decision “very disappointing” and said the centre intends to appeal the decision. “Catholics will not remain silent while their faith is being publicly ridiculed by a government institution,” he said.
This decision and other recent decisions by federal judges demonstrate that “there is a double standard when it comes to applying the Establishment Clause,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center.
“The Ten Commandments and the Christian Nativity scene are out, but an anti-Catholic display of a bishop wearing a miter that resembles a phallus is permissible because it allegedly enhances aesthetics,” he said.
“Apparently, the religion clauses protect atheists but afford no comparable protection for Christians,” he noted. “This disturbing trend in our federal courts must be reversed.”