BYU Professor Writes Letter About Censored Painting

The BYU Bookstore has sent a form letter in response to anyone’s inquiry regarding the removal of "One Nation Under God." This particular professor at BYU wrote an interesting letter to the Bookstore and made some excellent points. Although the painting, “One Nation Under God” is meant to be for all Christians, it has special meaning to those who are Mormon because of our belief that the Constitution is divinely inspired.

-----Original Message-----
From: Mike Richardson [mailto:mnarich@juno.com]
Sent: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 10:40 AM
To: Web Team
Subject: "One Nation Under God" [from unicomm.byu.edu/contactus form]

I am a BYU alumnus (B.S. and Ph.D.) and faculty member who is puzzled by hearing recently that Jon McNaughton's "One Nation Under God" will no longer be sold at the BYU bookstore. I'm not writing in protest, but to seek understanding. I felt that this painting was an interesting symbolic representation of D&C 101:80, which indicates that the Lord himself established the Constitution by the hands of wise men he raised up for that purpose. The painting also symbolically represents other doctrinal and prophetic statements.

Although there are elements of the painting, primarily represented by the foreground figures, that appear to lean politically conservative, there is no dearth of both conservative and liberal material available at the Bookstore in other forms of media. For example, "The 5000 Year Leap," depicted in the painting and consonant with the painting's message, was written by a former BYU religion professor and I believe can still be purchased at the BYU bookstore alongside other works of the same author such as "The Magesty of God's Law: It's coming to America" and "The Cleansing of America" (On the back cover: "Preparing America for the Kingdom of God"). Other controversial titles available at the bookstore include: "The God Strategy: How religion became a political weapon in America," "Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the triumph of ignorance," "BS (Blowing Smoke): Why the Right keeps serving up whack-job fantasies about the plot to euthanize grandma, outlaw Christmas, and turn Junior into a raging homosexual," "Republican Gomorrah," "The Roots of Obama's Rage," "Death by Liberalism," "Obama Zombies," etc.

It's seems that print media has a privileged status at the bookstore regarding expression of controversial ideas. If a similar balance is not maintained in visual media, is it the fault of a particular artist (who is also a BYU alumnus with a long record of sales at the bookstore), the fault of the bookstore, or the fault of the market/customers?

With all that said, what in the painting is particularly offensive or even controversial given doctrinal statements about both the divine and diabolical elements at war in America? Is it the judge who represents rulings that may be problematic for the Constitution (which usually divide not only the Supreme Court but also the American public, and which division itself may threaten national unity "under God")? Is it the college professor who represents the documented secularization of American education? Is it the woman considering abortion, who appears not only to be of two minds herself, but also seems to represent a divided America? Where, specifically, does this painting promote a political ideology that is dissonant with LDS or even general Christian beliefs? Where does it promote or denigrate a specific political party?

---------- Original Message ----------
From: Web Team
To: Mike Richardson
Subject: RE: "One Nation Under God" [from unicomm.byu.edu/contactus form]
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 2011 10:58:43 -0600


Thank you for your message regarding Jon McNaughton and his decision not to have his art sold at the Bookstore. As is true with most of our vendors, the Bookstore purchases artwork and sells it to its customers. It is the Bookstore's prerogative to determine what is purchased. It may be helpful for you to know that the Bookstore focuses on religious art and adheres to a school policy of political neutrality.

BYU Web Team


Thank you for the clarification regarding the bookstore's focus on religious art. It would also be helpful if you responded to the final paragraph of my last message. My understanding is that McNaughton decided not to sell his other artwork at the bookstore after a decision was made by the bookstore to no longer sell "One Nation Under God," which had been available at the bookstore for quite some time. At one time the painting warranted its own prominent display. My main question is, what in the painting is particularly partisan? Or what in the painting goes against or beyond any public statements leaders of the LDS Church have made regarding political issues such as Supreme Court decisions (e.g. Oaks), the secularization of education (e.g. Benson), or unnecessary abortion (many)? If it is the "5000 year leap" that is problematic, that book is a product of a former BYU religious educator, whose works continue to be available at the bookstore, and who has been publicly eulogized by LDS leaders (e.g. Monson). The painting is clearly religious, and if it expresses political ideas, its politics haven't changed in the time it has been sold at the bookstore. Have the bookstore's politics changed?

Again, my intent is to simply understand the reason behind this decision.


(Later Mike wrote the following)

Another thought I had after I sent the last message is that the issues you depicted were religious long before they were politicized. The freedoms guaranteed by the constitution have roots at least as old as the Protestant Reformation, and perhaps as old as the birth of Christianity itself (e.g. "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's"). The religious issues surrounding abortion existed long before Roe v. Wade, and tensions between religion and secularism pre-date our nation's founding.

So my question is, when religious issues are later politicized, must religious expressions on these issues suddenly cease? For example, marriage, an ancient religious tradition has become politicized of late. Will paintings depicting traditional marriage be banned? Or must they be balanced by paintings that depict non-traditional unions in a positive light? And if some political movement aims at taking the right of religions to perform marriages or adoptions, must artistic expressions supportive of religion's role in the family be removed (e.g. pictures of temples, traditional families, etc.)?

The issues you've depicted should be "safe" in a BYU context because Church leaders have spoken publicly about them already. As I've suggested in my e-mails, I also question whether the views you expressed are necessarily partisan. I know both democrats and republicans who would say religious rights have been hampered by the Supreme Court, both democrats and republicans who oppose abortion (even pro-choice people tend to say they are not pro-abortion, only pro-choice--and you've depicted the woman as though she is in the process of choosing), and both democrats and republicans who admit that education has become secularized. They may differ about the solutions, but few would argue that there are no problems regarding these issues. These issues have unquestionably divided the nation, and thus threaten unity under God or under ANY name. There are also both democrats and republicans who think the constitution is an inspired document. If one party favors these views more than the other that doesn't make a stance on these views inherently anti-republican, or anti-democrat. The issues are the issues and not necessarily linked to the parties. So the bookstore can be politically neutral regarding parties and still sell your painting, but do they really want to argue that they are neutral regarding religious ideas that have lately become politicized? There's a can of worms...


BYU Censors Artwork for Being Too Conservative

This is a sad day for me to have to write this.  I am a graduate of BYU and have many friends that work at the university.  After recent events I had to let the public know why I have chosen to pull all my art from the BYU Bookstore.

My letter sent to the BYU Daily Universe:

I have a simple question for BYU…what in the heck is going on over there?!  I am an artist who has sold his work at the BYU Bookstore for many years.  But in light of recent events, I cannot in good conscious show my art there any longer.

A couple of years ago I decided to paint a picture that takes a stand for something that matters to me and to many Americans.  The title of the picture is “One Nation Under God.” It depicts Christ standing among many patriots of the past while holding the US Constitution.

Just as our country is divided now on the issues, so goes this painting.  It has been extremely popular at the BYU Bookstore, but despite its success, it was pulled from the store recently because the Vice President over the Bookstore was “uncomfortable” with the painting.  It was actually pulled down last November, but was put back up immediately after Channel Two News showed up suddenly to do a story on possible censorship at BYU.  Why is this painting, which is supported by church doctrine, (D&C 101:80) such a taboo image to display at BYU?  Why censor a painting like this?  Is it pornographic? Does it incite civil unrest? No.  Go look around the bookstore, you’ll find far more provocative political books than my paintings.  The problem in our country today is that many Americans won’t stand up for something if it makes them “uncomfortable.”

Events leading to the censorship of One Nation Under God at the BYU Bookstore
1.    August 2010, BYU Art Department Manager, Val Ugolini, suddenly resigns over issues regarding “One Nation Under God.”
2.    Bookstore pulled down my paintings in November of 2010.  One faculty member objected to the painting, felt that it should not hang unless an alternative liberal painting also hung.
3.    Channel Two News does a story on this incident and BYU receives hundreds of phone calls and e-mails.  Dave Hunt stops Daily Universe from running a story on the incident.http://connect2utah.com/search-fulltext?nxd_id=114716
4.    Private meetings held.  I am asked to not talk with the press, they claim all was a misunderstanding, apologies given and good faith agreement offered. All was good again.  (BYU Bookstore Director Roger Reynolds, BYU Assistant VP Dave Hunt)
5.    Bryan Evans BYU Administrative Vice President cancels my invitation to speak at BYU OPAC Conference because he was “uncomfortable” with me presenting about One Nation Under God.
6.    Suddenly told April 18, 2011 by the BYU Bookstore managers that the “Presidential Committee” had decided back in December, weeks before the agreement with Bookstore director, to take down the One Nation Under God but had not taken action... now the picture will no longer be hung.
7.    After it is announced that art would not be hung, BYU Bookstore Director denies existence of Presidential committee and says it is a bookstore decision.  I feel that the January agreement with Bookstore Director was deceptive.
8.    April 21,2011, Jon McNaughton decides to pull out the rest of his artwork due to lack of trust with BYU Bookstore and the BYU Administration.

I sent President Samuelson the following letter after my invitation to speak at the BYU OPAC Conference last March was cancelled:

“Has Liberalism so infected this university that speakers can be invited to speak about the truths of Darwinism, but a simple artist who wishes to speak about the Constitution and its importance in America is too controversial?   I am very troubled and would appreciate an explanation.”

His response included, “Consequently, they have concluded that their conference is not the proper forum for such a presentation and they have the support of the BYU administration. While we believe your accusations about “Liberalism” at BYU are unfounded and unsupported in fact, (emphasis added)

Although BYU is undoubtedly a conservative school to deny any Liberalism exists is astonishing.  Go to the following links:

Darwinism Conference at BYU: http://sciencebysteve.net/?p=654
BYU CollegeDemocrats http://byudemocrats.org/

BYU professor Bill Bradshaw on the Biological Origins of homosexuality http://mormonstories.org/?p=1158
A BYU Student blogs about her experience in a lecture on Evolution in a BYU class:http://godlessatbyu.blogspot.com/2010/10/evolution-debate-at-byu.html
Personally, I think that a university like BYU should discuss all ideas as long as they don’t go against anything contrary to the honor code.  But to deny that Liberalism exists at BYU is not true.  
I believe that the source of the censoring of my painting ONUG is that BYU does not want to offend the liberals on campus.  Why is it that the complaints of a few angry liberals determine what the rest are allowed to look at?  Is this Washington D.C. or BYU?  


Mother Teresa-A Light on a Hill

When I set out to paint the Via Dolorosa, I knew that Mother Teresa needed to be in the painting.  Behind the modern Christian man are those from history that either defended or persecuted Christianity.  In my mind, Mother Teresa defended Christianity by showing one of the best examples of how a single individual can be a light on a hill.  She was not large in physical stature.  She did not have a lot of money.  There was nothing about her to get your attention other than her deep love for Jesus Christ that overflowed to the rest of the world.  She demonstrated to all of us the essence of Christianity by offering unconditional love to the poor and sick in the ghettos of Calcutta, India.  For this reason I included her in the painting and did a special video dedicated to her faith.  

Click McNaughton drawing to see video


Happy Halloween in April

Today I had a wild hair in me and had to post a picture of my painting, “Happy Halloween” on my Facebook page.  Halloween is a holiday that we celebrate to the extent that the children and I carve pumpkins and then walk around to a few close friends’ houses and share candy for the kids.  It’s a lot of fun and adds a nice variety to the season.  Like most families, Halloween represents a magical time for children to play dress-up, go outside after dark with Mom and Dad (which they hardly ever get to do), and eat a lot of candy.  My wife and I are overly protective parents and don’t even let our kids watch scary movies so you could say our Halloween may be a little different than others.

Some were surprised that I would paint a Halloween picture seeing the other kinds of art that I do.  For me, it was something relaxing and innocent to paint after doing very serious painting of Jesus.

One of my followers on Facebook said, “What do you think of halloween Jon? I dislike it to the fullest, shed some light please, to how you feel.”

I responded, “I'm not really a Halloween fanatic. What I like about Halloween is watching my kids dress up as princesses and sports heroes and watch their faces light up as they see the candy and lights. I know Halloween has a darker side to it...but that is not a part of the world I live in. Often Satan takes the good and twists it into the bad. In this case we're taking the bad and twisting it into the good! Happy Halloween!

His response was, “Nothing happy about happy halloween. The roots of halloween are pagan and evil, have you ever tried to make crap not stink.... its really hard to do, maybe in due time the smell will go away, but its still crap my friend Jon. I do not fall into worldly deeds, I try my best to follow Godly deeds as you try to do Jon. Does it say anything about halloween in the BIBLE?”

I appreciated his comment.  I know that the roots of Halloween are pagan and evil.  Did you know the roots of Dec. 25th were also a pagan holiday?  What about Easter?  We now celebrate the birth of Christ on this day in December which used to be a date to celebrate many of the Roman gods.  In April we celebrate Easter which also is also mixed with a pagan holiday.  My point is that it is not what it was then, but what it is now, particularly within our own families. 

I have chosen to center my family around Christ.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t carve pumpkins, have a Santa Claus and an Easter bunny for a little fun.  I have many good friends who are beautiful Christians who HATE Halloween and everything about it and I will not judge them.  It is their choice to do what they do.  I believe that God will judge me based on what is in my heart and the way I honor His name.  On Christmas we focus on the birth of Christ; at Easter we focus on the triumphant Resurrection; and at Halloween we talk with the kids about what they want to be when they grow up and what Jesus wants them to be.  In the Bible it says, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  (Matthew 7:18-20)  This tells me to judge what I do by the “fruit” or the results.  My Halloween may be different from yours.  I suppose we should judge everything in our life by the fruit.  I don’t know of any commandment that says not to take my kids Trick or Treating, so until the fruit goes bad… Happy Halloween!!


McNaughton and Thomas Kinkade

Today I was asked a good question on my Facebook page, “I see some wonderful similarities between your work and Thomas Kinkade. Who would you say has influenced you the most as an artist?”

That's an interesting comparison. Being an artist is sometimes like being a chef. We all have our specialties. Kinkade likes to make desserts. Sometimes I make desserts too. The difference is that his art is a little sweeter. Right now my focus is on painting what I consider the meat and potatoes.”  

Thomas Kinkade has been popular with many Americans in the last decade.  His dreamy paintings of cottages with cobblestones streets enveloped in spoonfuls of color have been a marketing sensation.  He brands himself as the “Painter of light.”  He has become the whipping boy among many artists today either out of jealousy for his financial success or because they simply don’t like his sentimental paintings.  My only beef against Kinkade is that I can’t paint an English cottage without someone saying the name Thomas Kinkade!  (I suppose that is a credit to his marketing manager.)

Who is my inspiration…a little of everybody and not much of any single individual. I suppose I admire the Renaissance Masters. But I don't like to compare myself to anybody. I have my own voice and own way of doing things.  I am an artist with a mission.  I hope my work will help people to think about their relationship with God and their duty to preserve the liberties we cherish in this country.  My art is a personal journey and the result is for everybody else. Thank you for the question.



YES!, we’re doing it again.  In appreciation to our best fans we are giving away some of our most popular prints.  In order to enter this contest only two things are required…

First… Be a new or existing “subscriber” on the MCNAUGHTON Youtube Channel Page. http://www.youtube.com/user/McNaughtonArt   Be sure to leave a comment on the channel telling me which is your favorite video and why, and include your real name (channel names can be hard to identify for purposes of naming a winner!)

Second…  Write me a note on my Facebook page telling me which print you would like to win.

This contest will run until Wednesday the 13th and the winners will be announced Thursday the 14th!

There will be a first and second prize awarded.  Each print will be personally signed by the artist!

***FIRST PRIZE:  Choose TWO of your favorite McNaughton 10X15 prints from the following list:  One Nation Under God, The Forgotten Man, Via Dolorosa, Peace is Coming, Parting the Veil, Awaiting the Command.

***SECOND PRIZE:  Choose ONE of your favorite McNaughton 10X15 prints from the same list as above. (To view images visit the photos on Facebook)

 This is a small sliver of my new painting, "The Arrival."  If you write somewhere on your Youtube comment the words, "The Arrival", I will add an extra print and personalize it with something of your choice.  Somebody who enters today will be one of the final winners!


Why Satan?

I am often asked why I sometimes include Satan in my paintings.  I have received numerous letters from people who have spent up to an hour looking for Satan and still can’t find his placement in the picture.  In real life, Satan hides himself so discretely that many can’t find him. One of the greatest accomplishments Satan has achieved in this world is convincing people that he does not exist. 

I choose to create a symbolic representation of who Satan is. My goal is simply to make him as creepy as possible.   He is like a dark shadow lurking in the background.  In reality, I suspect he is probably handsome and would appear as if he were your friend.  But I believe we can detect his evil spirit if we are sensitive.

 Click image to view video about Satan in the Via Dolorosa painting

So, what does this mean to you?  I believe that God allows Satan to be here to temp us.  Even our first parents, Adam and Eve, were subject to his deceptions.  It is interesting to me how God in His wisdom allows Satan to entice us that we may choose between good and evil.  In so doing we show God the true nature of our hearts.  God made a promise as Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden:  Speaking to Satan God said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)  This tells us that although he can injure our heel, we can bruise his head.  God has given us the upper hand.  There is no temptation that we can not overcome if we turn to God.  But many people flirt with Satan to the point where they are consumed.

It reminds me of a story I recently heard in the news.  In Nevada there are hundreds of abandoned mine shafts dotting the state.  They are usually fenced off and marked as extremely dangerous.  In the news we were told of a man who ventured too close and fell into one of these mines dropping over 100 feet.  When the rescue team arrived they saw that he was still barely alive after the fall, but they could not reach him because of the unstable walls of the mine shaft.  He died at the bottom of the shaft and could not be recovered.  How tragic a story and yet many people today, in a similar way, fail to listen to “God’s warnings” and dangerously flirt with Satan’s enticing.  Never in the history of the world has Satan had more tools at his disposal to destroy the souls of mankind.  With the proliferation of pornography, drugs, homosexuality and removal of God from society, Satan has destroyed many of God’s children.

In my painting, “One Nation Under God”, Satan lurks behind the group of people that represent those whose actions are weakening our country.  Some have found offense at this because I am in some way suggesting these people are Satanic by having Satan with them.  The truth is that just as the painting depicts, they don’t recognize that Satan is even there.  He hides himself in the cloak of intellectualism.  He whispers lies to those who will listen.  He will lead you down a path to sorrow and despair.

In my last painting, “Via Dolorosa”, I have Satan hiding in the crowd.  This is an interesting crowd, made up of those who have had a profound impact on Christianity for both good and evil.  The man in the middle holds up his right hand as he states, “Be still, for I know that Jesus is the Christ.”  This exclamation is directed to all the world and particularly to Satan himself.  If we are true to our witness of Christ at all times, he will not have power over us.  

 Click image to learn more about the Via Dolorosa painting