• Freedom From Religion Foundation
    (Photo: AP / Morry Gash)
    Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor stands in front of the door at the foundation headquarters Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, in Madison, Wis. Gaylor has helped transform the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation from obscurity into the nation's largest group of atheists and agnostics, with a fast-rising membership and increasing legal clout.
By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
January 7, 2013|4:34 pm

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization has threatened a middle school in Ohio with a lawsuit should school officials not remove a portrait of Jesus Christ from a hallway.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison sent a letter last week to officials at Jackson City Schools over the portrait, which hangs in the Jackson Middle School building.

In an interview with local media, FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Markert said that the portrait is unconstitutional and also alienating to non-Christian students.

"If a large portrait of Jesus were to hang in Jackson Middle School, an objective observer would have no doubt that it had the district's stamp of approval," said Markert to WKKJ-FM of Chillicothe.

In her letter on behalf of an unnamed individual who informed the FFRF of the portrait, Markert called the image "an egregious violation of the First Amendment."

"It is illegal for Jackson Middle School to post religious images on the walls of its school. If true, the District must remove the picture of Jesus at once," wrote Markert. "We ask that you commence an immediate investigation into this allegation and take the appropriate and necessary steps to bring Jackson Middle School into compliance with the Constitution."

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The portrait has been at Jackson Middle since 1947, when a student organization known as the Hi-Y Club, an organization associated with the Young Man's Christian Association (YMCA), donated it.

Phil Howard, district superintendent for Jackson City Schools, said in an interview with WKKJ that the Jesus portrait was one of several pictures on the "Hall of Honor" display at Jackson Middle. These pictures include a variety of other faces, including distinguished alumni and influential historical figures.

"I'm certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wisconsin, who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down," said Howard.

Jackson City Schools did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.