NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Manhattan author is suing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, claiming some century-old paintings hanging in the museum are racist because they depict Jesus as white.

CBS2’s Brian Conybeare talked exclusively Thursday with Justin Joseph, who filed a federal lawsuit over the matter.

“I think this is a very serious issue,” Joseph said.

Joseph hopes the museum will take down some classic oil paintings that depict images of Jesus as a white man.

“I’m calling it ‘whites only’ art. That shouldn’t be in a museum, just like ‘whites only’ seating shouldn’t be in a restaurant,” Joseph said.

The paintings, some 500 years old, show images of a blond, fair-skinned Jesus – as a child, with his disciples, and on the cross.

In response, officials at the Met said in such classic paintings, artists often depicted their subjects in the image of their audience – and in this case, the subject was Jesus.

Museum officials declined to go on camera, but art lovers outside the Met Thursday night had plenty to say.

“Nonsense – it’s horrible,” said museum patron Terry Moore. “What a shame that he can’t be a little more open-minded with everything going on in our world that we’re all going through.”

“We could stand to have more art that is historically accurate, but I think, to take this down? We’d miss it,” added museum patron Stel Duncan.

“I’m sure that Jesus wasn’t white,” said museum patron Jackie Choi, “but I don’t think that, there’s no need to have a lawsuit over it either.”

But Joseph called the art “racist propaganda,” and dismissed accusations that his lawsuit was frivolous. He cited millions in taxpayer funds that support the Met.

“They’re paying for this art through tax dollars — that makes it government speech. The government can’t engage in racist speech,” Joseph said. “If the Met doesn’t want to take down this art, then the government should stop funding it.”

A judge may have to decide whether the works constitute art or racism.

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