Hundreds of community members hailed a school district in Ohio for deciding to let a portrait of Jesus Christ stay at the hallway of a middle school, which was threatened with a lawsuit by Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"I'm certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wis. who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down," Jackson County School District Superintendent Phil Howard told WKKJ.
In a Jan. 2 letter to the district, the FFRF demanded the portrait, which hangs in the Jackson Middle School building, be removed, saying it is unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity.
Howard said the portrait – placed in 1947 by a local chapter of the Young Men's Christian Association – is one of several displays in the school's Hall of Honor. "We're not violating the law and the picture is legal because it has historical significance. It hasn't hurt anyone."
About 600 members of the community showed up at the Jackson City School Board meeting last week to support the administration's decision to keep the picture.
Howard showed a framed poster of America's motto, "In God We Trust," and Ohio's motto of "With God, All Things Are Possible." He then cited ORC 3313.801, which states that a copy of the national or state official mottos is donated to a school district, or if money is donated to the district specifically for the purpose of purchasing such material, the board of education of the school district shall accept the donation and display the motto in an appropriate manner, according to Jackson County Times-Journal.
In an interview with local media, FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Markert earlier 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," Markert told WKKJ-FM of Chillicothe.
In her letter on behalf of an unnamed individual who informed 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."
However, at the board meeting, Howard concluded, "As of right now, I have taken the position ... and I believe with the support of the Board of Education, that the picture will stay."