DENVER — An appellate court yesterday ruled that a public university had not
unconstitutionally endorsed an anti-Catholic viewpoint by allowing on campus a
statue depicting a clergyman with a bishop's miter that some said was offensive
to the Roman Catholic Church because of its phallic appearance.
A student and faculty member filed a lawsuit after the statue — titled
"Holier Than Thou" — was installed on Washburn University's campus in September
2003. The display was part of a larger outdoor display at the municipal
university in Topeka, Kan. The statue has already been removed, as scheduled,
from the campus.
Ruling in O'Connor v.
Washburn University, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a
lower court's decision and said the school had not violated the First
"This court holds that the statue's placement on Washburn's campus under
these circumstances does not constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of an
anti-Catholic message," the opinion said.
The court also said that in the context of art, any reasonable observer would
understand the school did not endorse an anti-Catholic message, regardless of
whether the statue actually sent such a message.
In addition, the court said the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary
injunction seeking the sculpture's removal was moot because the statue had
already been removed.