(Photo: WBNS-10TV Video)
A Christian student club, which installed a portrait of Jesus at a southern Ohio school more than six and a half decades ago, decided to move the painting to another school after two secular groups filed a lawsuit claiming it violates the Constitution.
The painting of Jesus Christ, which hung above an entrance to Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio, next to a "Hall of Honor" since 1947, was moved this week, according to The Associated Press.
Jackson City Schools Superintendent Phil Howard said the portrait was moved at the request of the Hi-Y club, which originally put it up.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit last month against the district, arguing the portrait unconstitutionally promotes religion at school.
"The school system was warned weeks ago that this religious display is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and must be removed." ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman said in a statement after filing the lawsuit on Feb. 7, "They have chosen to continue displaying the portrait, making legal action necessary."
School officials argued that the school received the portrait as a gift from the Hi-Y club, which comprises about 60 students, and that it had been on display for many years.
The school board had voted last month to keep the portrait up while allowing other student groups to hang portraits related to their foci. Officials said removing the portrait would curtail students' private speech. "It belongs to the club," Howard was quoted as saying. "It's student speech, not government speech."
It's not clear how the moving of the portrait would affect the lawsuit.
Nick Worner, a spokesman for the ACLU of Ohio, did not comment on his group's legal strategy, but stressed that its position remains the same. "It doesn't matter which public building the portrait is in," he was quoted as saying. "It's an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of a public school."
An adviser to the Hi-Y club, art teacher Bob Eisnaugle, stated that the group decided to move the portrait to the high school, where the club meets and where its current members are students. The middle school building used to be the high school decades ago when the portrait was installed.
The club wants to keep the portrait up because it "represents the club and the Christian principles that the club values," Eisnaugle said.