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If Muhammed Cartoons Are OK, So Is Hijabi Statue of Liberty

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(Photo: Screenshot from video)
(Photo: Screenshot from video)

Do we hold to the same standards of liberty regardless of the specifics of the case? A recent California case throws up interesting questions.

A painting of the Statue of Liberty wearing a hijab that won fourth place in a congressional art competition is now hanging in the office of Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA).

However, the painting “is being attacked as an unpatriotic violation of the separation of church and state by members of We the People Rising, a Claremont-based activist group that advocates stricter enforcement of immigration laws,” as reported by local media outlet The Orange C0unty Register.

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The activists went to Correa’s office and met with his staff, a visit they filmed and posted to YouTube. Activist Mike McGertrick complained that “you guys have a picture out in front of your office of the statue of liberty wearing a hijab, which I find reprehensible and disrespectful.”

Their protest was picked up by the website Young Conservatives and retweeted by Republican politician Sarah Palin. Correa’s team reported an increased number of calls to the office about the painting as well as “unspecified threats.” They are refusing to release the name of the student who painted the piece.

Each spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide high school visual art competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent in the nation and in each congressional district. Since the Artistic Discovery competition began in 1982, more than 650,000 high school students have participated.

Students submit entries to their representative’s office, and panels of district artists select the winning entries. Winners are recognized both in their district and at an annual awards ceremony in Washington, DC. The winning works are displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol.

Correa told media he has no plans to take the painting down.

“You take it in the context of a lady, probably a Muslim American — with all that’s going on, she’s a proud American,” Correa told the Register. “That’s what it says to me.”

While activist McGertrick attempted to frame the issue as one of religion and state, saying “He shouldn’t have anything religious in his office,” would there have been complaints made about a Statue of Liberty wearing a large prominent cross? What is his view on the fact that Trump’s cabinet holds bible study meetings, something that so far only the atheist community has complained about?

It seems like an infringement on free speech to attempt to influence what kind of art can be selected to win fourth prize in a congressional art competition.

This is especially true given that many on the right have previously supported free speech when it comes to cartoons disrespecting and mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammed.

Clarion Project has supported the rights of cartoonists to draw pictures of Muhammed considered disrespectful by conservative Muslims. Such cartoonists have done so under threat of death. A draw Muhammed cartoon competition was attacked by terrorists in Garland, Texas.

The fact that many Muslims consider these pictures incredibly offensive has been brushed off by many on the right as the consequences of living in a free society. In 2015 a Gallup poll indicated 57% of Americans believe that media should publish cartoons of Muhammed, even though it offends Muslims to do so.

On the same basis, the fact that activist group We the People Rising finds a painting “reprehensible and disrespectful” seems quite irrelevant.

Unlike the controversy over an Imam calling to annihilate the Jews. it isn’t a threat of violence or a call to hate anyone.

Clarion does not know the stance of “We the People Rising” on the Muhammed cartoons controversy. But as a rule of thumb, if a person thinks Muslims should have to put up with crude and insulting pictures of their prophet, then that person should be able to handle seeing a picture of the Statue of Liberty wearing a hijab.

Having to see paintings you find disrespectful is just the consequence of living in a free society.

Do you agree? Take our poll:

Is Keeping the Hijabi Statue of Liberty Painting in a Congressional Office Free Speech?

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.