A Christian mural painted on a wall inside a Virginia high school is currently under investigation by the ACLU, who questions the legality of the painting because of its location.
Created by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, one of the largest Christian sports organizations in America, the mural at James River High School in Chesterfield County displays a large black cross with a biblical verse that reads, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man. Col. 3:23.” Underneath the cross the club affirms in all caps, “Competing for him.” The FCA’s logo is also clearly established.
When members of the Virginia ACLU found out about the painting through a local reporter, they were concerned about a possible establishment clause violation.
Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, told a local news station, “The average student passing it may view it as a painting endorsed by the school or a message endorsed by the school and that violates separation of church and state.”
“The final legal evaluation [depends] on the rules that allowed the mural to be painted [in the first place],” Willis shared with The Christian Post.
“If all school clubs are allowed to paint murals, then the FCA should be allowed to paint one, too. If on the other hand, the FCA was the only group allowed to paint a mural, that might violate separation of church and state.”
The ACLU found that one other organization did in fact paint a mural on the main hall – the Gay-Straight Alliance club.
“We understand that a student Gay-Straight Alliance club was allowed to paint a mural, which would indicate that there may be a rule allowing all clubs to do so. On the other hand, we also learned that there were objections to the GSA mural and it was painted over. Then we learned that it was re-painted. All very confusing,” Willis told CP.
“Until we find out more, we’re neither opposing the mural, nor are we endorsing it,” he added.
Chesterfield County school officials were also looking into the situation as well.
When asked for a comment about the pending investigation, Chesterfield County Public School Assistant Director of Community Relations Shawn Smith repeated to CP what they have told all inquirers, “The school division is reviewing information displayed by all James River High School student interest clubs.”
Students at the high school have mixed feelings about the mural. While some oppose the painting, others believe the club has the right to put up a mural based on their own beliefs and opinions.
Gregory Mehfoud, a senior at James River High School and one of the student leaders at the FCA, told CP, “The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that schools are not permitted to discriminate against student clubs simply because of their religious activities or viewpoints.”
“The school permits other clubs to paint murals on the walls related to their clubs. The FCA cannot be excluded simply because its focus is spiritual,” Mehfoud added. The mural stood across the hall from the painting by the Gay Student Alliance.
“It is important to remember that this is student speech and not the speech of the school administrators. For that reason, it is protected speech under the First Amendment.”
The James River senior had contacted civil rights attorney Tom Roberts and was assured that the mural, which was approved by the former principal, was constitutional and protected by the law.
Michael Stock, area director capital region for the FCA, cited Colossians 2:14-15 as his response to the ACLU’s investigation when asked by CP for a comment: “[Christ] canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”