FFRF, ACLU sue over Ohio Jesus portrait

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit today (Feb. 6, 2013) on behalf of plaintiffs who seek removal of a portrait of Jesus from Jackson Middle School in Jackson.

FFRF sent an initial letter of complaint Jan. 2 to Jackson City School District Superintendent Phil Howard. Howard is a named defendant, as are the Jackson City Board of Education and the school district.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on behalf of a child who attends Jackson Middle School and the parents of children who attend school in the district.

The portrait of Jesus Christ is prominently displayed on an entrance wall at the school, where it has been located for some years. The superintendent has stated that “it would take a court order to remove the picture,” according to the complaint.

Dan Barker, FFRF co-president and a former evangelical minister, is very familiar with the painting, having encountered it himself in countless Christian churches. “It boggles the mind that in 2013, a public school superintendent and school board would not understand that a devotional painting of Jesus, called ‘The Head of Christ,’ — identical to millions hanging in churches and Sunday school classrooms around the country — may not be posted at the entrance of a middle school.”

Displaying the portrait violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the 14th Amendment and Article I, Section 7 of the Ohio Constitution, the suit alleges, and the defendants’ actions “have no legitimate secular purpose, and are motivated by a desire to advance a religious purpose.”

Plaintiffs seek removal of the portrait and a permanent injunction barring “any substantially similar display.”

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert and James L. Hardiman, Jennifer Martinez Atzberger and Michael Honohan of the ACLU of Ohio are plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The suit was filed using pseudonyms for the plaintiffs rather than their true identities. A motion has also been filed seeking to maintain plaintiffs’ anonymity, along with a protective order barring disclosure of their personal information so that they aren’t subject to potential adverse consequences, including harassment and personal threats.

The federal lawsuit is in the court of U.S.District Judge Algrnon Marbley, a Clinton appointee. The case number is: 2:13-cv-112.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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