Several major secular organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against an Ohio public school for hosting a portrait of Jesus, which they claim is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
"The maintenance and display of the portrait has the effect of advancing and endorsing one religion, improperly entangling the State in religious affairs, and violating the personal consciences of plaintiffs," the lawsuit reads. The suit was filed by The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation against the Jackson Middle School in Ohio.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three plaintiffs who chose to remain anonymous and were referred to as "Sam Doe" in the case, although The Associated Press said that one of the plaintiff was a student at the school, while the other two were parents of children who attend the same school.
The Jackson Board of Education and Superintendent Phil Howard have defended the portrait, however, and said that they were "shocked and surprised" at the lawsuit, the Columbus Dispatchreported.
"We're not violating the law and the picture is legal because it has historical significance. It hasn't hurt anyone," Howard explained, revealing that the painting was a gift that has stood unchallenged at the school's entrance since 1947.
ACLU spokesman Nick Worner has argued, however, that although the defendants are citing historical significance to the portrait, it still breaches constitutional laws. "Separation of church and state is one of the nation's oldest traditions," Worner said.
"Religious belief, or the lack thereof, is often a very private and very closely held family tradition," added ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. "The government has no place interfering in these matters by promoting one specific set of beliefs in a school that children are legally required to attend."
Last month, Howard and hundreds of community members hailed the decision of Jackson County School District to keep the portrait despite threats of a lawsuit, saying that the school has a right to defend its culture and traditions.
"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," Howard told the community.
The Superintendent also cited ORC 3313.801, which states that if a copy of the official motto of the United States of America "In God We Trust" or the official motto of Ohio "With God, All Things Are Possible" is donated to any school district, the board of education of the school district shall accept the donation and display the motto in an appropriate manner in a classroom, auditorium, or cafeteria of a school building in the district.