Ohio school board votes to keep Jesus portrait up

An Ohio school district decided Tuesday night to keep a portrait of Jesus hanging in the school where it's been 65 years, denying a federal lawsuit's claim the portrait's display unconstitutionally promotes religion in a public school.
Associated Press
Feb 13, 2013

The Jackson City Schools board offered a constitutional justification of its own in voting 4-0 to keep the portrait up in its middle school, saying it must protect students' free speech rights. The vote drew cheers and applause from the dozens of people gathered in the elementary school gymnasium.

After huddling with attorneys in closed session for more than an hour, the school board said the portrait belongs to the student group that put it up, the Hi-Y club. The portrait's frame is inscribed with the club's name and the Christian-based service group is the portrait's owner, not the school, the board said.

The board said the portrait is part of a "limited public forum," and that the Jackson schools will allow other student clubs to hang portraits appropriate to their organizations.

"We're in a predicament where we have to balance things," said Superintendent Phil Howard said after the meeting. "We can't make that kind of endorsement (of religion) as a government entity. But we also can't infringe upon the rights of our student groups and our students."

An ACLU spokesman said it will want to see details of the board's position, but remains convinced the portrait is unconstitutional.

"Our position on this is clear: we believe the portrait is unconstitutional sponsorship of religion and should be removed," spokesman Nick Worner said.

The ACLU and another group filed suit last week in U.S. district court on behalf on an unidentified student and two parents in the school district.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of public religious displays, and attorney David Shaw of Washington-based Covington & Burling researched the issue and advised the board. Shaw, whose firm is donating its services, said he couldn't guess how the plaintiffs would respond, but said the lawyers had earlier asked their attorneys to meet to discuss the case before the lawsuit was filed.

The portrait had generally been said to have been donated by the student group in 1947, but the school board Tuesday night disavowed ownership and said the Hi-Y club had asserted that it owns the portrait.

It hangs in a hallway, above a side entranceway that leads to the middle school auditorium of the school in Jackson City, a small town about 65 miles south of Columbus nestled in a mostly rural area in the state's Appalachian region. The building was the Jackson High School at the time the portrait was hung.

The challenge to the Jesus portrait began with a Jan. 2 letter to Howard from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which said it had received "a disturbing report" about the portrait, along with a photo showing it hanging in the school.

At a subsequent school meeting that drew hundreds of people in support of the portrait, Howard defended it as having historical significance, said it was donated by a student group, and added that it hadn't drawn previous complaints.

"I've been here for six years and nobody ever said anything about it," Howard told The Associated Press before Tuesday's meeting. "I think probably the vast majority of the people in the community want it to stay."

The plaintiffs are referred to only by "Sam Doe" in the lawsuit filed by The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. A U.S. magistrate in Columbus ruled that the plaintiffs' names could remain publicly anonymous, while being filed under seal and provided to defendants' attorneys.

The plaintiffs' attorneys said in a court filing that their clients would face harassment and intimidation, citing threatening social media comments saying those disagreeing with the portrait should leave Jackson and go to another school.

The lawsuit against the Jackson schools contends that "maintenance and display of the portrait has the effect of advancing and endorsing one religion, improperly entangling the State in religious affairs, and violating the personal consciences of Plaintiffs."

It's the latest legal clash over religious displays in public places. A school district in nearby Adams County battled for years for a Ten Commandments display that courts ruled to be overly religious. However, federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have approved some displays if their main purpose was non-religious.

"The basic rule is that the government is not allowed to endorse religion," said Kermit Roosevelt, a constitutional law expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. "So there would be two questions here: Is the portrait an endorsement of religion — rather than, say, a recognition of some historical fact — and if so, is it attributable to the government — the school — rather than the students?"



jtmakse's picture

Awesome, that is one good thing for our rights. Thank you.


We are a Christian Nation and we need to promote good values in our schools.

Phil Packer

That's Right! And I for one will not stand for the removal of a picture of our favorite Jew!


America is absolutely NOT a Christian nation, nor has it ever been. Our founding fathers were very explicit in their beliefs about the separation of church and State. Several of our most well-known early politicians were atheists or agnostics, including Franklin and Jefferson.

As documented in the Bible, the loving and merciful god was responsible for more than 2 million deaths, compared with only 10 by Satan (7 sons and 3 daughters of Job). I agree that schools should promote good values, however, it's pretty obvious that they already do a better job of that than Christianity does.


No, this is NOT a "Christian nation" and has never been so. Read the Constitution sometime. There's no mention of a god or gods anywhere to be found. Even the oath of office as constitutionally required doesn't include a religious reference (it was voluntarily added by George Washington, but it is NOT required).

I'd also note that Washington himself, in the Treaty of Tripoli (1787), specified that the United States "is in no way founded on the Christian religion." (The Muslims with whom the treaty was signed were worried about that.)

I assume you'll forgive me if I take Washington's word over yours seeing as how he was there at the time and all... And for the record, Washington was VERY religious, and VERY Christian yet denied that the country was either.


really, 3 people don't like it and everyone else has to go through this? this falls in the category of WHO CARES... these 3 ppl need to grow up a bit and deal with it..


Good for you!

Yellow Snow

Sad when you sign on as Sam Doe in a lawsuit over your non-believer. If you're willing to take stand on an issue, put your name on it.


Good for them, People who don't want religious belief around, that's their right, but they should not be able to force their belief on others. We all have are own opinions, but not to force it on another. This is what is wrong with the world today, People have to realize, no matter what you do, it is God and the Good Lord Jesus you will have to answer too! Without God it is hell! And that is why the world is the way it is. We keep taking God out of it.

Pterocarya frax...

Don't you see that you are doing exactly what you are accusing others of doing? You are trying to force your religious views on others, as are the people of this town in the story.

If you need Jesus in your life so much, why don't you get a graven image of him tattooed on your chest so he can be near to your heart all the time. Just keep it covered so I don't have to see it.


tsk tsk


But it's ok for the religious to force their belief on others, right? Like most atheists, I keep my views to myself, and have no problems with those who wish to believe in an imaginary friend in the sky. I have a conscience and live a moral life because I know it's the right thing to do, NOT because I'm afraid of being punished by god if I don't.

I contend that we are atheists: I just believe in one god less than Christians do. But seriously, religious people have no idea just how often they push their religion in the faces of those who have no use for such myths - it's ALL the time, and it gets weary. And when religion attempts to dictate national policy, as is the case with the Religious Right, we have a far bigger problem than a few atheists attempting to remove an old picture from one school.


I'm glad Jesus gets to hang out in a Cinnci school. He hasn't been well liked of late. Maybe when he comes around the second time, he'll have a better reception than the last time.


Good for them. Its about time they acknowledged religion again. I wish they would allow those who wish a few moments of prayer in the morning when arriving at school to do so. Remember when you could do that? We used to be allowed to do so. I see nothing wrong with a few moments of silence in which those who wish to say a silent prayer may do so. Those who do not, do not have to, but please remain silent in deferrence to those who are praying. It would hurt no one.

And luvblues2....I hope he gets a better reception as well. And it ends better for him as well.

I would also like to see the Pledge of Allegence reinstated too.


That's just it . The school is saying they are NOT acknowledging religion . They say they don't even own the portrait . If they're going to provide space to a special interest group perhaps they should charge a fee for the rental of said space . That way , at least they have a legitimate claim to why they are displaying it , but then I guess they would have to also cater to other groups as well .


Fine, charge a penny for that portrait to hang there. Big deal. And what if they do have to have other items go up. So what? I still think this country cow towed to Madeline Murray O Hare and that stared a LOT of problems in this country. She got what she deserved as far as I am concerned.


@ wiredmama222:

So bein' murdered and buried in an unmarked grave gave MMO what she deserved?

Should the Inquisition and heretic burning be reinstated as well?

John Harville

wired... short-circuited is more like it. There is no provision against a group of students gathering to offer a prayer each morning. Many Ohio schools have prayer groups.
It IS a violatiion of law, however, for the SCHOOL to REQUIRE students to join in a group prayer OR a moment of silence.
And yes, let's force young Americans INVOLUNTARTILY to pledge their lives and property to a cause they (and you?) don't understand. After all the retiring Pope performed similarly as a youth....


As has been pointed out: it's not a portrait of Jesus. No one knows what he looked like. Very possibly Semitic. (The Shroud of Turin has been pretty well discredited.)

Señor Clown

It's not a portrait of Jesus: Jesus was black. You realize that putting your name on the lawsuit, instead of Sam Doe, might likely cause both students and parents to be ostracized from school, work, and social functions in a small town where nearly everyone believes that they have an imaginary friend that died for their salvation?


You are correct . That is a portrait of Robert Powell , a British actor . Who else did you think white Christian America would worship ? ; )))


I hope this school is prepared to hang a Satanic symbol or a Wiccan symbol or a Muslim symbol if a student group wants to donate that.
And it doesn't matter if it was 300 people or 3 people that objected to the portrait--that is exactly what the Constitution was designed to do--protect every individual's freedom from the majority. That's why the Puritans left England, because they were persecuted for not following the majority.
And before any of you rattle off that I am what's wrong with our society, I am a Christian. But I respect the beliefs of others and do not feel a student who is not a Christian should have to be objected to blatant support of one religion in a public school that is supposed to be equal for all when it comes to religion.
This school board just opened a Pandora's box and they will be sorry.


I urge any and all faiths or walks of life to donated their own portrait to this school for display . This is a great day for freedom . So ,bring your portraits of Mohamed , Buddha , Gay pride rainbows . Oh , pot symbols , and gang signs . And of course we can't forget your favorite Death Metal or Rap group . I personally would like to see the shocker symbol proudly hanging on those walls . ; )))


You're exactly right. I don't object to the portrait of Jesus. I object to the inevitable refusal of the school to permit the display of portraits of OTHER religious figures. Just watch. If somebody actually tries to form a club based on Wicca, or demands an image of Buddha be displayed to go along with their after-school group, just watch the hue and cry!

The school isn't really promoting any religion; the club is. But that school had best not dare refuse non-obscene displays by other clubs now! That'll be proof positive that local administrators are, indeed, taking a position on religion, and that is legitimately just about as unconstitutional as it gets. (I also question the obviously preferential position of the portrait, but that's neither here nor there in the current debate.)


Wired, I don't know how much you know about what goes on at school, but any student can pray silently and the Pledge of Allegiance is said daily at many schools.


Many, but not all. That bothers me. We lost sight of the main respect for this country long ago. That really gets to me. I wish I could put my finger on exactly when that happened but I think I can almost remember when....sometime around the end of the Viet Nam war. Can you remember or are you too young for that? LOL


@ wiredmama222:

Yea, that lying, murdering SOB LBJ and then his "buddy" Nixon helped some members of a generation to distrust authority. IMO, it ain't improved much - they're still lying and murdering.


I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I'm here to party.


From a couple yrs. ago -

"The Real Face Of Jesus
Advances in forensic science reveal the most famous face in history."


According to some surveys, more people believe in ETs than they do in God. When do the Raelists get their due?


Jesus is an alien . He was not native to this plain of existence . If he ever comes back it would take him , like 15 to 20 years to get down that path to citizenship in America anyway . ; ))))