Oklahoma Mayor Drops Plans for Jesus Statue after ACLU Complaint

October 16, 2008 - 10:45 AM
The mayor of this conservative Oklahoma City suburb on Wednesday retreated from a board's decision to help buy a bronze sculpture depicting Jesus Christ and said a private group will buy out the city's commitment.<br />
Edmond, Okla. (AP) - The mayor of this conservative Oklahoma City suburb on Wednesday retreated from a board's decision to help buy a bronze sculpture depicting Jesus Christ and said a private group will buy out the city's commitment.
 
"We're not looking for a lawsuit," Edmond Mayor Dan O'Neil said.
 
The Edmond Visual Arts Commission last month approved paying $3,900 for "Come Unto Me," a 26-inch-tall statue that shows Jesus surrounded by children. It is planned for a sidewalk outside a downtown Catholic gift shop, which raised the rest of the $7,800 sculpture's price tag.
 
O'Neil said Wednesday that he plans to secure private funding to cover the city's commitment, as well.
 
Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he was "delighted" by the mayor's decision.
 
"Clearly the city has felt some heat, and now they have seen the constitutional light," Lynn said.
 
A decade ago, Edmond was forced to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees after losing a court battle to keep a cross on its city seal. Last year, the city backed down from a decision to use public funds on a statue of Moses outside a church.
 
June Cartwright, who leads the commission and who supported funding the sculpture of Jesus, said the work was viewed simply as a piece of art, not a religious endorsement.
 
"It doesn't state that it is specifically Jesus. It is whatever you perceive it to be," Cartwright said.
 
However, the Web site of the work's artist, Rosalind Cook, described the image as depicting Jesus with three children, one cradled in his arm. "Every major line leads to the face of Christ who is the focal point and apex of the sculpture," the site says.
 
City Attorney Stephen Murdock, who lost the cross lawsuit 10 years ago, had concerns about Edmond having an ownership stake in the Jesus statue, O'Neil said.
 
O'Neil said news of the commission's decision had brought a "sort of mixed reaction" from across the country. "Some of them said, 'There's no need to fight over this,'" he said.
 
The mayor said guidelines will be drawn up to govern future local governmental participation in art projects.