Archive for Friday, February 27, 2004

Statue can stay at Washburn, judge determines

Court says ‘Holier Than Thou’ doesn’t represent an attack on Catholics

February 27, 2004

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— A federal judge refused Thursday to order Topeka's Washburn University to remove a statue from its campus that critics feel is offensive to Roman Catholics.

The statue, titled "Holier Than Thou," has been on display since September outside the Washburn student union and is scheduled to remain there until summer.

Critics contend the ceremonial hat worn by a clergyman depicted in the work, by sculptor Jerry Boyle of Longmont, Colo., resembles a penis. They also have complained about the expression on the clergyman's face and an inscription that accompanies the statue.

Andrew Strohl, a Washburn student, and biology professor Thomas O'Connor filed the suit against the university, seeking to have it removed from the campus.

But in his ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas Van Bebber wrote: "In an environment of higher learning on a college campus, the court cannot conclude that a reasonable observer would perceive the university's display of 'Holier Than Thou' as an attack on Catholics."

Jerry Farley, Washburn president, said the university did not see anything offensive in the sculpture when it was selected last year for display, though he added, "We deeply regret that anyone was offended."

"We had no intention of making a political statement," Farley said in an interview. "We had no intention of making a religious statement."

He defended the university's decision to keep the sculpture in place, saying the issue was one of maintaining academic freedom.

"The people who are offended here are well-meaning," he said. "There may be other well-meaning persons who might ask that we remove a book from the library because it is offensive to them."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Farley said the university would "immediately reach out to them to try to reconcile our differences."

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