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Lawmaker's 'Controversial Painting' Features a Statue of Liberty in a Hijab

Alex.m.Hayward/Flickr.

Many people personalize their office space with photos of family, crayon drawings made by their young children, or favorite pieces of art.

Elected officials, too, sometimes decorate their walls with art created by their constituents.

One painting hanging in Rep. J. Luis Correa’s office in Santa Ana, California, however, is drawing public attention.

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The painting features a re-imaged Statue of Liberty as a woman wearing a hijab and holding the torch across her chest rather than up toward the sky. The piece is from a local high school student in Correa’s district, and it gives a nod to political issues of the time — such as discrimination against Muslims and the refugee crisis.

Since US President Donald Trump’s nomination, artists have found ways to fuse the hijab with American symbols, including the “We the People” poster of a woman wearing the American flag as a hijab and images of Rosie the Riveter sporting a hijab.

The painting of Lady Liberty wearing a hijab, however, has some conservatives raising concern. A local activist group in Santa Ana, We The People Rising, has called for the image to be removed, passed out fliers to local neighborhoods urging them to call Rep. Correa to ask for the painting’s removal, and said it will organize a protest on Sept. 11 if Rep. Correa does not take the image down.

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Opponents of the painting hanging on Rep. Correa’s wall say it is “not appropriate” to hang in a public office and demonstrates a lack of separation of church and state. An activist in the group wrote to Rep. Correa, calling the painting “inaccurate, unprofessional and offensive.”

Pictures of the painting spread on social media last week and garnered the attention of well-known conservative media outlets and figureheads, including former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Rep. Correa said he will not take the painting down.

“My thoughts were, here’s probably a young Muslim lady who is trying very hard to be part of America, who is trying very hard to show people that she is an American, given the context that is going on around us in our country,” Rep. Correa told the Washington Post on Tuesday.

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The painting was created by a high school student for the Congressional Art Competition, an annual competition for high school students to submit their work to be featured at the US Capitol. It’s a finalist, and other runner-up pieces from Rep. Correa’s district hang on the wall around it.

Rep. Correa said the painting is an individual artist’s expression and that by policing that and taking the image down would violate freedom of speech laws, leading to a “very dangerous slippery slope.”

Rep. Correa reached out to his legal team for guidance on the issue, and they said that the painting shows nothing “wrong or in any way malicious.”

Others have taken to social media to show support for the painting. Some have even pointed out that the sculpture of Lady Liberty envisioned the statue as an Egyptian peasant woman, who, based on the time the statue was made, would have been Muslim.

The painting, and the controversy around it, broadens the national discussion of what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes today and adds to the debate about what it means to be American — and what that looks like.