ACLU contests Jesus portrait at middle school

CINCINNATI — A portrait of Jesus that hangs prominently in an entranceway at a rural Ohio public school is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and should be removed, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday says.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation say the large portrait at Jackson Middle School unconstitutionally promotes religion. The two groups seek a court order requiring the school to remove the portrait and prohibiting its re-hanging or any substantially similar display in the future.

“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 says.

The suit follows complaints by both groups to school officials, and was filed on behalf of three plaintiffs, identified only as “Sam Doe.” One is a student at Jackson Middle School; the other two are parents with children who attend the school.

School Superintendent Phil Howard, named as a defendant along with Jackson City School District and the school board, was out of town for a meeting Thursday but said through a spokeswoman that he was surprised the lawsuit was filed before the district completed its investigation of the issue. He said the board will discuss “an appropriate course of action” at its Feb. 12 meeting.

The Columbus Dispatch previously reported that Howard said at a school board meeting last month: “We’re not violating the law and the picture is legal because it has historical significance. It hasn’t hurt anyone.”

School officials have said the portrait was donated by a student group and has been in the school since about 1947.

But ACLU spokesman Nick Worner said that while defenders of the portrait cite tradition, that doesn’t change its interference with constitutional rights.

“Separation of church and state is one of the nation’s oldest traditions,” Worner said.

The Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, representing the school district, earlier wrote to the ACLU and Freedom From Religion, saying the institute was investigating the issue. The institute said the portrait has been in place for some 65 years, apparently without anyone complaining about it.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, said Thursday the lawsuit was premature. He said Liberty Institute planned to present its findings and recommendations to the school board at next week’s meeting. He declined to discuss the findings, but said the goal was to make sure the legal rights of all involved were considered.

“It’s obviously a delicate balance,” he said.

The district is some 65 miles south of Columbus.

More in Local News

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Suspect sought in two Everett bank robberies

He’s described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with dark hair and a goatee, and may have a neck tattoo.

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Two missing men found, one alive and one dead

The man found alive was found in an apartment across the hallway and taken to a hospital.

Darrington School Board dealing with upheavals

The crux of the controversy seems to be the superintendent’s job.

Alaska Airlines has selected destinations for new service from Paine Field. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines will fly from Everett to 8 West Coast cities

Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.

Train kills man who was trying to get off tracks in Monroe

The conductor said he attempted to stop after sighting the man, who’d been lying on the rails.

Front Porch

EVENTS Construction to start on housing project A groundbreaking is scheduled for… Continue reading

FILE - This Tuesday, May 30, 2017 file photo, former Washington Gov. John Spellman, second from left, leaves a memorial service in Renton, Wash. Spellman, the last Republican governor elected in Washington, has died at age 91. Spellman’s son, Seattle attorney David Spellman, confirmed his death Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)
John Spellman was last GOP governor of Washingon

He had spent recent weeks “being very disappointed with the Cougs and the Huskies,” his son said.

Most Read