FFRF, Ohio ACLU rebuff school’s Jesus “switcheroo”


Portrait now hanging in Jackson Middle School challenged today

A display of Jesus is just as unconstitutional in a high school as it is in a middle school. That’s the message of the amended complaint filed today by the ACLU of Ohio and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A month after the two groups sued the Jackson City School District over the portrait in a middle school on behalf of students and families, the district moved the contested portrait to a high school. Local plaintiffs in the original case were all students or parents coming into contact with the Jesus portrait in the middle school.

“This was such a transparent effort to shake off a lawsuit,” noted FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Now FFRF and the ACLU of Ohio have assured that the federal case will continue, by adding as local plaintiffs “Sam Doe 4,” a parent who has a minor child attending the high school, and “Sam Doe 5,” a student who attends the high school. The plaintiffs today also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order asking for immediate removal of the devotional portrait.

“It doesn’t matter which public building the portrait is in,” said Nick Worner, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Ohio. “It’s an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of a public school.”

FFRF first complained about the portrait hanging above the entrance of the Jackson middle school in early January. Superintendent Phil Howard refused to remove the portrait, saying “it would take a court order to remove the picture.”

FFRF and the Ohio ACLU sued on Feb. 3. The case is in the Southern District of Ohio in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley. School district employees removed the painting from the middle school on March 13 to a hallway at the high school, where it will be viewed by 700 students, faculty, staff and community members. The school board meets at Jackson High, and it hosts a variety of public events.

The district for the first time is claiming that the portrait doesn’t belong to the district, but is “student speech.” The superintendent stated publicly that it would be unconstitutional to turn “the portrait into government speech.” He has told media that the portrait was moved at the request of the Hi-Y Club, a Christian service club at the high school (which until 2004 shared the middle school building), which reportedly donated the painting to the school in 1947.

The devotional portrait, called “Head of Christ,” painted by Warner Sallman, is the most recognized depiction of Jesus and hangs in many churches and Sunday schools.

Read amended complaint
Read motion for Temporary Restraining order
Read original complaint, press release, etc.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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