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Indiana residents seek to block controversial play

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (BP)–Residents of Fort Wayne, Ind., and 21 members of the Indiana General Assembly have filed a federal lawsuit to stop college performances of a play that portrays Christ as a drinker and a homosexual.

The lawsuit contends that production of the play, “Corpus Christi” by Terrence McNally, “as a government-sponsored and sited production, conveys a strong message of governmental disapproval of Christianity.”

Unless the court restrains the play, it will be performed at Purdue Indiana Theater at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne on Aug. 10 – 16, according to a report in CNSNews.com

Calling the production “an unbridled, unmitigated attack on Christianity and its founder,” plaintiffs’ attorney John Price said the play “basically takes the story of Jesus Christ — every aspect of his divinity, his life, his miracles, and so forth — and turns every one of them around and states they’re not true.

“It portrays Christ as a liar, a blasphemer, a drunkard, a sexually active person — both hetero — and homosexual,” he told CNSNews.com.

Performances of “Corpus Christi” have drawn protests by religious conservatives since it was performed in New York in 1998.

Price filed a lawsuit on behalf of 11 residents of Fort Wayne and 21 state senators and representatives, including one Democrat and 20 Republicans.

The case centers on whether the government can sponsor speech that is hostile to religion, Price said, and not on academic freedom, as the Purdue Indiana Theater claims.

“We all know that tax funds can’t be used by our government to promote a religion,” he said. “This case will decide if the government can use our tax funds to attack a religion, on public property.”

Last week, Indiana Republican Congressman Mark Souder weighed in on the side of the forces opposed to the play, CNSNews reported.

“Of course this play is taxpayer funded and supported,” he said in a letter to a local paper. “But free speech does not include burning crosses on college campuses. Free speech does not include sexual harassment on college campuses. Free speech does not include the right to blaspheme God with taxpayer dollars on college campuses.”

The Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne [IPFW] exists because taxpayers “are forced to contribute their hard-earned dollars to support the university,” Souder said.

“IPFW’s answer to those taxpayers has been to say, ‘If you believe we have used your dollars to mock your God, then just don’t come to the play. Nobody is forcing you to come.’ But IPFW did force everyone to pay for this play,” Souder added.

Price said the production violates the school’s own anti-harassment policy, which calls for a sensitive, caring environment for the education of all students, including those of different races and religions. “It stands everything on its head,” he said.

However, the university said it had no plans to halt production. The play is a student project that is being directed by a student, proposed as a senior project by the student and approved by the faculty as having academic merit, a spokesman said.

“The university at this point has no intention of interfering with that process,” said Brian Zink, managing editor of the Purdue News Service. “It isn’t our intent at this point to stand in the way of someone’s academic freedom.”

Anthony Benton, a lawyer for the university, said canceling the production would amount to “an infringement of First Amendment rights to free speech and academic freedom enjoyed by IPFW students and faculty connected with the production.”

The complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, could be heard July 11.
Morahan is a senior staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Lawrence Morahan