NEW ORLEANS - Yesterday, a federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana awarded the American Civil Liberties Union $42,000 in attorneys' fees in a case they brought challenging the legality of a picture of Jesus Christ that was displayed at the Slidell City Courthouse.
Earlier this year, Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that the picture "served the purpose of advancing, promoting, or endorsing Christianity, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," and ordered that the plaintiff be awarded nominal damages.
The picture depicted Jesus presenting a book, and had written in large gold letters, "To Know Peace, Obey These Laws." The ACLU asked Slidell officials to remove the image, and brought suit only because that request was denied.
"We never wanted to bring this case," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "We asked the city to remove the picture, but it refused. Slidell violated such a clear Constitutional principle that we felt we had no choice. Courts exist to dole out justice impartially and hold all people equal before the law. It is inappropriate for a judge to appear to have a preference for one religious group over another."
This week's ruling simply puts a monetary value on the time and resources the ACLU spent in bringing the case. "It's too bad that the residents of Slidell now have to pay for what should have been resolved without litigation," said Esman. "We hope that in the future it won't be necessary for taxpayers to foot the bill for their government's violations of clear legal principles."