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?"




According to Blaise Pascal:

•You may believe in God, and God exists, in which case you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.

•You may believe in God, and God doesn't exist, in which case your loss is finite and therefore negligible.

•You may not believe in God, and God doesn't exist, in which case your gain is finite and therefore negligible.

•You may not believe in God, and God exists, in which case you will go to hell: your loss is infinite.

Pascal wagered that it was better to believe than to not believe.

Personally, I would agree. As one of the 86% of Americans that believe in a Judeau-Christian religion, I think my taxes are well-spent displaying religious art.

Besides, there's no title on the lithograph, it's a painting by Warner Sallman of a bearded, long-haired man.

What's next, a ban on pictures of Billy Gibbons from Z.Z. Top?


Seriously? Billy Gibbons? Everybody knows Clapton is God.


I don't disagree, but also: Todd is God.

Reads like polytheism.

Give me that "old time religion" - Druidism.


"Pascal wagered that it was better to believe than to not believe"

In other words, it's better to be safe than sorry. Huh--so if I just go through the motions of PRETENDING to believe then all will be well with me if I die and there really is a Pearly Gate? Wow, whoda thunk the almighty would be so stupid as to fall for that trick???


C.S. Lewis:

“We are arguing like a man who should say, if there were an invisible cat in that empty chair, the chair would look empty; but the chair does look empty; therefore there is an invisible cat in it.”


Heavy stuff there Contango. :}

John Harville

I thought Pres. Obama as sitting in that empty chair?....


"Pascal's Wager" represents the ultimate in hypocrisy. If you assume that the god you're pretending to believe in is omniscient, then it only goes to follow he knows you're just hedging your bets! I'm pretty sure that lying, especially for gain, is a sin. I'm just saying...


I give up. Lent is here and we are getting ZZ top? What's next? Pontius Pilot and His Nail drivin 5 for Good Friday?


PP & His Nail Drivin 5 were one hit wonders.

John Harville

Wired... if "PP and the ND5" will speak to yet another group that has been unimpressed...why not?
Of course Jesus was crucified because he dined with prostitutes and tax collectors and healed lepers and the blind and forgave the man who betrayed him AND his crucifiers.
I guess we shouldn't mount productions of "Godspell" since it dares to bring Jesus to the Gentiles as in the Gospel of Matthew - oh, but that was the responsibity Jesus gave to Paul.
And for some "Jesus Christ, Superstar" is blasphemy or heresy - but was the first time many people actually understood as approachable.
But songs like "if you think that you're so cool, walk across my swimming pool" gave voice to some of the dismay many have with the Biblical accounts... and made believers in the 'human' Jesus.


The following are satanic lies:

"Outside of the NT, there is no historical evidence whatsoever that Jesus even existed."
"No "proof" is possible with only one flawed source."


If those are "Satanic lies," may I assume that you're in possession of the "godly truth?" Please provide same. And don't bother quoting Josephus. That's long been known by scholars as a forgery.


The bible is a compilation of writings from different people like the encycopedia is a compilation of writings from different people.

Read the bible and become free.


Actually, I HAVE read the Bible. More than once. Have you? If so, please tell me how you determine which parts are true and which parts are not, or if you consider ALL parts of it to be true.

Inquiring minds want to know!


More than once and less than twice, right?
I've been reading the bible EVERY DAY continuously for over 6 years and I don't get tired of it, in fact, I crave it.

Matthew 4:4

New International Version (NIV)

"Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."

Here, feed yourself.


John Harville

Matthew put those words in the mouth of Jesus... after Mark put red-letter words in the mouth of Jesus... and before Luke (WHO NEVER MET JESUS) put the red-letter words in the mouth of Jesus ... 60 YEARS BEFORE John declared for us that Jesus is God and God is Jesus and Jesus participated in the Creation.

Get over yourself, please.


John Harville

You didn't like my response to Sam Adams?
I was answering Sam Adams.

John Harville

I've never known life without the Bible. For that reason I know it's not infallible. Jesus often disputed the 'law' of the OT, most famously in his "you have been told an eye for an eye..." discussion and when he told the Pharisees it's okay to give your donkey water on the Sabbath.
And about that 'Sabbath' thing, Paul abolished the Sabbath in favor of the "Little Easter".
So what parts of the Bible do you follow? When is your Sabbath?
When is the Seventh Day (clue... look at your calendar)
This "Christian Nation" still operates on a Sunday througth Saturday calnedar.
Which of the TWO Genesis creation stories do you claim as the more accurate?


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).


Godly truth, simply put, is the Word of God, and Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh…”

I had never read one word from the bible before I became a Christian.

That being said, shortly after my new birth, I picked up a copy of the New Testament, read it cover to cover seven times (and the Old Testament once for good measure). I was amazed that it read like a handbook for my new personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Even if the bible didn’t exist, I would still be a Christian, thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that all receive at the time of their new birth.

The promise of the Father was the Holy Spirit, not a Bible. Don’t exclude the Spirit at the expense of only studying the book.

Various outward rituals are not what saves a person. The Spirit of God touches people when and where He chooses. He might be speaking to your heart this very moment. Seek and the door shall be opened to you.


True, you don't have to read the Bible to be saved , but reading the Bible will help you get wise to put your faith in Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:15
New American Standard Bible (NASB)

" ... you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

Jesus read the Bible aka. Scriptures.

John Harville

Whooooooaa! "Jesus read the Bible".
REALLY? When? You mean when he read from the Torah in the Synagogue?...and then almost was stoned because he said he was the fulfillment of the prophecy?
Have you read the Apocrypha?


John Harville

Yeah, Old Testament = Scripture = Bible (before New Testament)


Shizzle is right. Jesus did & does exist. He waited on me at Casa Fiesta today as a matter of fact.

John Harville

Trustafarian... you might be right about Casa Fiesta. If Jesus truly fills the soul of the person who waited on you, then you met Jesus.

The Big Dog's back

If it were just put up in a new school I would agree it should be taken down. But since it has been there for 65 years, "grandfather" it in and let it stay.


Are you idiots really that afraid of a picture of Jesus?


More afraid of a picture of your mother.