From: Mike Richardson [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
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...