(Photo: WBNS-10TV Video)
A school was forced to remove a Jesus portrait and pay nearly $100,000 after reaching a settlement Friday with the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a Wisconsin group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The school district's insurance would not pay for legal fees, which left few options to fight the case.
The school forced to remove the Jesus portrait in Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio. Two parents and a student, who remain anonymous, were represented by the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They claimed that the painting, "Head of Christ," which was featured in the school's Hall of Honor since 1947, violated the student's constitutional rights.
"All of this was unnecessary," James Hardiman, ACLU Ohio legal director, told the Associated Press. "The law is pretty clear … the display of this particular kind of religious artifact (in a public school) is unconstitutional."
Though U.S. District Judge Alegnon Marbley in Columbus, Ohio, backed the secular side of the case, the school's administrators disagreed. The painting was in a "limited public forum," hung beside prominent alumni and other famous historical figures. It did not endorse one religion over another, and was not school-endorsed "governmental speech," the district said.
The school district had agreed to take the Jesus portrait out of the hall and pay the legal fees, which totaled $95,000, in April. However, they continued to bring it out on the school lawn during prayer meetings and it was still visible to students entering an art storage area.
The district intended to fight the lawsuit, but after their insurance company refused to pay for legal costs and damages, administrators had little choice but settle.
"Our insurance company denied coverage, and we cannot risk taxpayer money at this time," Superintendent Phil Howard told The Columbus Dispatch previously.
"At the end of the day, we just couldn't roll the dice with taxpayer money," Howard told AP, saying the district's lawyers advised him to settle. "When you get into these kinds of legal battles, you're not talking about money you can raise with bake sales and car washes. It's not fair to take those resources from our kids' education."