Today Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled that the portrait of Jesus that was installed on the Slidell courthouse wall violated the First Amendment, and awarded nominal damages to the plaintiff who sued to have the image removed. Just prior to the court hearing in September, 2007, the display was altered to include historic figures. Nonetheless, Judge Lemelle then ruled verbally that the original display had been unconstitutional.
Today in a written opinion, Judge Lemelle repeated that the original display was unconstitutional, and found that the plaintiffs are entitled to damages and attorneys' fees for having brought the lawsuit that led to the modification of the display. "Plaintiffs' primary purpose of altering or dismantling the display was achieved through the Defendants' alteration of the display after the lawsuit was filed," wrote Judge Lemelle.
"When we took on this case, people called us un-American, and the American Taliban," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "But all we were doing was supporting the American ideal that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics - everyone should feel that our legal system is here to protect them. This is one of the most basic principles of the Constitution and of fundamental fairness."
"Although we are pleased that Judge Lemelle agreed with us that the original display violated the Constitution, we regret that this lawsuit had to be filed at all," Esman continued. "We tried to work with the City of Slidell to have the display altered, and they refused to make any changes, despite our waiting weeks for them to take corrective action. It was only the eve before the first hearing that the display was modified. As a result, the taxpayers of Slidell will have to pay the price of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees. All of this could, and should, have been avoided."