JACKSON, Ohio The portrait of Jesus hung in the entrance to Jackson Middle School, in Jackson, Ohio since 1947 was moved to avoid a lawsuit.
Three days after Easter, a faculty advisor and two students took down a portrait of Jesus that had been hanging in the Middle School since 1947 and moved it.
Superintendent Phil Howard said he requested the portrait’s removal in order to avoid an expensive and unaffordable lawsuit. “At the end of the day, we just couldn’t roll the dice with taxpayer money," he said.
Last January, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Jackson City Schools complaining about the portrait. Shortly after, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued the district on behalf of a student and two parents, calling the portrait an unconstitutional promotion of religion in a public school.
At first, the school refused to remove the portrait, pledging to protect students’ right to free speech. Administrators said the portrait technically belonged to the Hi-Y Christian student club and that it was part of a public forum for student organizations.
But their resolve crumbled when the district’s insurance company declined to cover litigation expenses. “When you get into these kinds of legal battles, you're not talking about money you can raise with bake sales and car washes,” Howard said. “It's not fair to take those resources from our kids' education."
The student Hi-Y Club had moved the portrait to the high school where it is hanging on a wall alongside a trophy case.
Howard stated that the portrait was moved at the request of the Christian club.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion have now amended their complaint asking the court to prohibit the Jesus portrait from being displayed in the high school.
Nick Worner, an ACLU spokesperson, said after the portrait was moved that the group's position hadn't changed. "It doesn't matter which public building the portrait is in," Worner said.
The Hi-Y club could file its own lawsuit for a right to display the portrait, said Hiram Sasser, an attorney with the Liberty Institute, which helped defend the school. But its members haven’t made any plans yet.