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Rudy In Rage Over Female Christ

A photography exhibit that includes a work depicting Jesus as a naked woman is stirring debate at the same museum where a dung-decorated painting of the Virgin Mary sparked a heated six-month legal battle.

The work Yo Mama's Last Supper features the photographer, Renee Cox, nude and surrounded by 12 black apostles. It is part of an exhibit of 94 contemporary black photographers opening Friday at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Another artist's photo collage depicts a topless woman, crucified.

Cox, a Jamaican-born artist who was raised Catholic in Scarsdale, NY, said the Last Supper image highlights legitimate criticisms of the church, including its refusal to ordain women as priests.

"I think what they did is disgusting, it's outrageous," Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, adding that anti-Catholicism "is accepted in our city and in our society."

"Get over it!" Cox said. "Why can't a woman be Christ? We are the givers of life!"

The ACLU defendes the museum's right to freedom of expression.

"It may be appropriate for the mayor to be indignant or offended by the art, but his response, once again, in calling for a task force to make judgments about individual pieces of art is unconstitutional," said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the New York Civil Liberty Union.

"What the mayor fails to recognize is that there are certain kinds of publicly funded institutions devoted to discourse and expression, where government is prohibited from using the powers of the purse to micromanage the content of expression undertaken within those institutions."

Giuliani doesn't have the support of New York's Governor George Pataki, a fellow Republican, either.

"Obviously I'm offended by it but to have government set standards to me is something that we have to be very, very careful about," said Pataki.

Giuliani said Thursday he is appointing a task force "that can set decency standards for those institutions that are using your money, the taxpayers' money," including the city-subsidized museum.

In 1999, the museum's Sensation show featured an elephant dung-embellished Virgin Mary. The mayor froze the museum's annual $7.2 million city subsidy -- about a third of its annual budget -- then sued in state court to evict the museum.

The museum filed a countersuit in federal court, where a judge ruled that the city had violated the First Amendment and restored the funding.

This time, Giuliani said he would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decisions he said are based on "showing decency and respect for religion."

Eisenberg says that under our system of expression Giuliani's appropriate response shouldn't be to coerce a museum into silence, "rather it should involve more speech. So, if the mayor is offended by this photograph he can express his criticism of it, which he has done. But the First Amendment's commitment to luralism prohibits the mayor from seeking to penalize the museum on the basis of the content of a particular photograph."

©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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