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Artist yanks prints from 'liberal' BYU bookstore

Published April 29, 2011 12:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • If you're looking for a print of Jon McNaughton's paintings, don't bother going to the Brigham Young University bookstore.

The Provo-based artist pulled his prints from campus this week, claiming the LDS-Church owned school is catering to liberals offended by his painting, "One Nation Under God." McNaughton said the university backed out of an agreement to offer the painting for sale through April.

"I think [BYU] is trying not to offend the few liberals on campus," McNaughton said in an interview Wednesday. But Carri P. Jenkins, BYU spokeswoman, said the decision not to display "One Nation Under God" had nothing to do with political correctness. Rather, it was a business decision.

"The primary focus of the bookstore is to sell religious art," said Carri P. Jenkins. "This painting has received some negative feedback in the past."

Jenkins said the decision was made by the bookstore, and not the administration.

McNaughton announced on his blog this week that he would no longer offer his prints for sale at the BYU bookstore, claiming that the university was "censoring" his painting because it made an administrator uncomfortable.

The painting, "One Nation Under God" depicts Jesus Christ standing near the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court building with a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Flanking him are figures from American history — including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan — along with soldiers from various wars. In one corner, McNaughton depicts those he sees as having "pushed our country toward socialism" — a Supreme Court justice, a politician, a Hollywood producer, a professor, a "liberal news reporter."

McNaughton said the painting squares with LDS scriptures that declare the Constitution was divinely inspired, and that the nation's founders were called by God. "It's only offensive to people who do not believe the Constitution is divinely inspired," he said.

But Jenkins said McNaughton, on his website and in other public statements, has established that the painting's theme is more political than religious.

McNaughton said the painting does have some conservative themes — and he acknowledged that the LDS Church has not taken a position on judicial activism — but he pointed out that BYU is a fairly conservative campus.

McNaughton said pulling his work was the culmination of a dispute that began in November. McNaughton claimed a faculty member said it shouldn't hang in the bookstore unless a liberal-themed painting was displayed as well. The bookstore then took the painting down, but put it up after news of its removal went public.

He said BYU apologized and they worked out an agreement. He said he was told the university would continue to offer his paintings, but would buy the prints it wanted to sell instead of taking them on consignment.

McNaughton said it was his understanding that BYU would make the decision based on which paintings sold best. By that criteria, he said "One Nation Under God" should have remained at the store. He said store managers told him the print sold so fast during the past 18 months that they could barely keep enough on hand.

But McNaughton said the tide started turning again in March, when he was uninvited from giving a talk about "One Nation Under God" at BYU's Office Professional's Advisory Committee conference.

McNaughton said he was told that BYU Administrative Vice President Bryan Evans was not comfortable with the artist's planned presentation on the painting, and how the Constitution was divinely inspired. He said he wrote BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson, arguing that the refusal to let him speak at the conference was more proof that "liberalism" was taking root on campus.

Jenkins said McNaughton was pulled from the conference because his planned talk would violate BYU's political neutrality policy.

McNaughton scoffed at that, pointing to the fact that BYU awarded an honorary doctorate to Republican then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2007.

dmeyers@sltrib.com Twitter: @donaldwmeyers facebook.com/donaldwmeyers —

On the Web

O Jon McNaughton's blog • blog.mcnaughtonart.com

"One Nation Under God"• goo.gl/TAWQ