Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FRFF) said they have filed a lawsuit against the Jackson City School District, seeking the removal of a Jesus portrait currently on display in Jackson Middle School.
According to the ACLU, Jackson school officials argue that the portrait in question was given to the school as a gift from a student organization and that it has been on display for many years. The ACLU of Ohio said they issued a warning to the school district last month.
“The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits government institutions from displaying religious imagery unless that display is for a secular purpose,” said ACLU of Ohio Litigation Coordinator and Staff Attorney Drew Dennis. “In this case, there are no other historical or religious figures displayed, making it very clear that the portrait is non-secular and meant to endorse one religion in particular.”
By not removing the portrait of Jesus, the ACLU of Ohio said the school “made legal action necessary.”
According to the group, the U.S. District Court complaint was filed on behalf of a child who attends Jackson Middle School, as well as two parents who currently have children attending school in the district. The anonymous student self-identifies as a Christian, but feels the portrait portrays the Christian faith in a way that distorts his or her beliefs. The other plaintiffs claim the portrait interferes with the way they have chosen to teach their children about morality and religion by promoting one belief system above all others.
“Religious belief, or the lack thereof, is often a very private and very closely held family tradition,” said 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.”
Jackson City School Superintendent Phil Howard said the district has not yet seen or been served, the lawsuit.
“We are shocked and surprised to hear about the lawsuit. FFRF asked us to do an investigation, which we started almost immediately. The investigation is almost complete and our attorneys are going to make a report at our next board of education meeting on an appropriate course of action,” Howard said.
The next meeting of the Jackson City School Board is at the high school on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org.