Ohio school takes down Jesus portrait  that had hung since 1947 because of concerns about the costs of a federal lawsuit

By Ap

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The Head of Christ: Portrait by Warner Sallman was hanging in the Ohio middle school

The Head of Christ: Portrait by Warner Sallman was hanging in the Ohio middle school

A Jesus portrait that had hung in Jackson Middle School, Ohio, since 1947 was taken down today, because of concerns about the potential costs of a federal lawsuit against its display.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation had sued on behalf of a student and two parents, calling the portrait an unconstitutional promotion of religion in a public school.

The superintendent of Jackson City Schools said the decision to take it down was made after the district's insurance company declined to cover litigation expenses.

He said the faculty adviser and two student members of the Hi-Y Club, a Christian-based service club that the school says owns the portrait, took it down at his direction.

"At the end of the day, we just couldn't roll the dice with taxpayer money," Superintendent Phil Howard said.

"When you get into these kinds of legal battles, you're not talking about money you can raise with bake sales and car washes. It's not fair to take those resources from our kids' education."

 

The student and parents who filed the suit weren't identified publicly by the groups, saying they would face backlash from portrait supporters, some of whom had suggested that they should leave town and find another school.

An ACLU spokesman said the school disclosed its decision at a federal court hearing Tuesday in Columbus. The organization will wait to see whether the portrait stays down.

Hall of honor: Jesus Christ painting, upper left, hanging above an entrance to Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio next to a Hall of Honor showing famous Jackson residents and school alumni

Hall of honor: Jesus Christ painting, upper left, hanging above an entrance to Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio next to a Hall of Honor showing famous Jackson residents and school alumni

"The case is still open; there was no actual ruling (by the court)," spokesman Nick Worner said. But he added there would be no reason to pursue a court order if the portrait isn't put back up.

A U.S. District Court order issued in Columbus on Wednesday stated that the plaintiffs had agreed to temporarily withdraw their motion for a preliminary injunction against the portrait's display once they verify the school has removed it, and that the two sides had until the end of the day April 11 to settle the case.

Hiram Sasser, an attorney with the Liberty Institute that helped defend the school, said Wednesday that the Hi-Y Club could file its own lawsuit for the right to display the portrait, but he didn't know its plans.

Messages were left for the club's adviser and legal representative. Howard said the portrait was in the club's possession.

The "Head of Christ," a popular depiction of Jesus, had been in an entranceway's "Hall of Honor" in a middle school building that was formerly the high school. It was near portraits of dozens of prominent alumni and people with local roots such as the late four-term Ohio Gov. James Rhodes.

Taken down: The portrait was taken down from this wall after a religious lawsuit was filed on behalf on a student and parents

Taken down: The portrait was taken down from this wall after a religious lawsuit was filed on behalf on a student and parents

Jackson Middle School: The superintendent of Jackson City Schools said the decision was made after the district's insurance company declined to cover litigation expenses

Jackson Middle School: The superintendent of Jackson City Schools said the decision was made after the district's insurance company declined to cover litigation expenses

The portrait was moved recently by the club to the current high school building.

A complaint that triggered the February lawsuit put the 2,500-student district in the midst of the ongoing national debate over what religious-themed displays are permissible. Jackson is a city of some 7,000 in mostly rural Appalachia.

The ACLU had an earlier lawsuit against schools in nearby Adams County over a Ten Commandments display that federal courts ruled was primarily religious in nature; however, courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have allowed some displays if deciding their primary purpose is non-religious and they don't promote one religion over another.

With vocal backing from many community members, Jackson's board initially voted to keep the portrait up, saying it belonged to the Hi-Y Club that donated it and that removing it would infringe upon students' private rights to freedom of speech.

The board said it was part of a "limited public forum," and that other student clubs could put up appropriate portraits reflecting their mission. Howard said Wednesday no others had been put up.

The groups that sued said in court documents Monday that the move was "nothing more than a contrived pretext to conceal" what they said was the school officials' continued involvement with the maintenance and display of the portrait.

With the portrait gone three days after Easter Sunday, Howard said he expected most residents to be disappointed.

"Obviously, the majority of people in our community wanted it to stay up somewhere in the school district," he said. "This all happened so fast, I don't know that anybody has had time to digest it."

 

The comments below have not been moderated.

"For all of you Christian posters: how would you feel if you had to pray to Mecca several times a day?" - Eileen, Los Angeles, 3/4/2013 15:40 .............one thing is for sure. The atheists won't dare to complain about that when, not if, it becomes obligatory

Click to rate     Rating   1

Sacha, hereandthere, 3/4/2013 17:48 - Your gratuitous advice to look up the word liberal, as well as the overall vitriol tone of your commentary, says it all. Thank you for your assistance in proving my point.

Click to rate     Rating   1

When will the Christian's "rights" get equal protection under the law? I just don't get it. They proclaim to not believe but yet are obsessed with hating on our decorated trees, our pictures, and most of all our words. They shouldn't have the standing right to bring lawsuits in regards to something they don't believe in. Makes no sense. I think they are afraid of the truth and the potential meetings they will endure with Satan. When will the complainers have the b**ls to stand up and be recognized if they so strongly feel their "rights" have been infringed upon? Why do they hide? When will legislators start protecting school districts from this kind of legal thugery? You don't like our Christmas tree, or our pictures, leave. You have a constitutional right to leave. Go to another school where you feel welcome and the carpets the correct color. One thing is certain, Heaven will be less crowded.

Click to rate     Rating   9

Why remove the portrait, freedom of religion is a right. Tolorance of others and their religion should be excersized. If your religion is strong, you should not be offended by others. Shame to those that are so insecure within their religion that they have to file a lawsuit.............shame on you.

Click to rate     Rating   12

Amazing how frightened atheists are of something they're so sure doesn't exist. - F.N. Feddup, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, 3/4/2013 21:12 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Atheists are not frightened of something that doesnt exist, we are all frightened that if this law is ignored then eventually someone would come along and propose a law that would FORCE people to adopt a religion or laws would be put into place banning atheists from holding public office, like the following 7 states. Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1 * Maryland, Article 37 * Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265 * North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8 * South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4 * Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2 * Texas, Article 1, Section 4 Fortunately the UK doesn't have such backwards laws or way of thinking.

Click to rate     Rating   9

Amazing how frightened atheists are of something they're so sure doesn't exist. - F.N. Feddup, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, 3/4/2013 21:12 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Atheists are not frightened of something that doesnt exist, we are all frightened that if this law is ignored then eventually someone would come along and propose a law that would FORCE people to adopt a religion or laws would be put into place banning atheists from holding public office, like the following 7 states. Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1 * Maryland, Article 37 * Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265 * North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8 * South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4 * Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2 * Texas, Article 1, Section 4 Fortunately the UK doesn't have such backwards laws or way of thinking.

Click to rate     Rating   6

Why can't we vote on this issue of JESUS! I'm sure JESUS would be taking note of the voting. The Democrats voted on JESUS, why can't the whole nation. Bet that would shut the mouths of the atheist.

Click to rate     Rating   7

Atheist is synonomous with hate and intolerance. When was the last time you saw a antheist that wasn't upset about somebody else's beliefs.

Click to rate     Rating   11

why do Christians moan that they are being picked on? 600 years ago when atheists proposed a logical and straight forward question, the Christians just killed them. Now they cant do that and so now they just say "oh boo hoo stop picking on me" The last time i checked the constitution, which yank Christians seem to avoid doing unless its to do with guns, there was this section that stated there should be no state religion. That picture, yes it is just a picture, is in breech of the law and if it remained up there then what's the point in having the law to begin with? All laws need to be up held, even the 1s some people dont like

Click to rate     Rating   11

This is a sad country we live in now. What ever happen to majority rule. Why do thousands have to put up with the one who complains. Wait util this kid graduates or leaves the school and then put it back up . These individuals who do this should be made public!

Click to rate     Rating   8

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