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Various Authors 6:38 p.m., Sept. 24
When San Diego State School of Art Design and Art History instructor Phillip Matzigkeit's mural honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "power to move people" was unveiled in October, many San Diegans applauded the work, calling it "a fitting tribute to the man who did so much for race relations in America that the City of San Diego named a highway after him, a highway that happens to run through the part of town that has the greatest concentration of African-Americans."
But ACLU lawyer Theo D. Issy, chief counsel for the organization's Godless America Liberal Lobby (GALL), was not among those celebrating Matzigkeit's work. Because the mural features an image of the civil-rights leader praying - King was also a Baptist pastor - GALL claims that the work violates the separation of church and state that stands as "the only thing separating us from Taliban-style death squads roaming the American coasts, rounding up the smart people and cutting their smart heads off for being so smart."
"So [King] was instrumental in securing many American civil liberties," said Issy. "So what? The American Civil Liberties Union will not tolerate state-sponsored religious displays of any kind. If you want to show an image of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on public land, show him giving his "I have a dream" speech on the mall in Washington D.C., or show him writing his Letter from a Birmingham Jail while he's sitting in a Birmingham jail. But don't show him with his eyes closed and hands folded, praying to God for assistance in his cause. His personal religious beliefs have no place in a celebration of his political achievements."
Issy praised GALL's recent victory in Santa Monica, where a Federal judge has just ruled that Christian groups may not force the city to re-open public spaces for religious displays at Christmastime, thus ending a 60-year tradition. And expressed hope that the decision would energize the atheist base, prompting a swift removal of the mural. "Things have a way of seeming immutable when they stick around for long enough," he lamented. "People get attached. The Soledad Cross? Don't get me started. We need to nip this mural in the bud. Where's a tagger when you need one?"