A “Head of Christ” painting was removed in early April from Jackson High School in Jackson, Ohio, after FFRF and the ACLU of Ohio sued in federal court.
It was the second move of the Jesus portrait since the lawsuit was filed in February. In March, the Jackson City School District moved the painting from the middle school, where it had reportedly hung since 1947, to the high school.
An offended high school student and a parent of a high school student fortunately stepped forward and were added to the amended complaint. AFter a closed hearing before U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley, a Clinton appointee, the district voluntarily removed the painting from the high school. The Ohio ACLU and FFRF then voluntarily withdrew a motion for a restraining order to force the district to remove the painting.
“Our insurance company denied coverage, and we cannot risk taxpayer money at this time,” Superintendent Phil Howard wrote in a statement carried by the Columbus Dispatch.
Howard told the Associated Press: “At the end of the day, we just couldn’t roll the dice with taxpayer money. 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.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor called removal of the painting “a major victory” and the presence of the painting “a major violation.” She and FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who wrote the January letter of complaint leading to the lawsuit, both expressed surprise that the conflict got this far.
“It’s a victory for the Establishment Clause,” commented Nick Worner of the ACLU of Ohio.
The litigation against the school district continues. It is represented by the Liberty Institute, an aggressive Texas Religious Right legal group.
However, the painting made a startling “resurrection” on May 2, the National Day of Prayer. Students and what appeared to be adults or faculty members gathered in a prayer circle around the Jesus painting, which was resting against the flagpole.
The ACLU of Ohio and FFRF inquired how the painting came to be resurrected from storage at the high school for this occasion. Attorneys for the school district replied that “the Fellowship of Christian Athletes held a prayer event at 7:40 a.m.” before school for five to 10 minutes, and that neither the principal nor superintendent participated or had been made aware of the gathering.
The defendants’ attorneys claimed “many members of FCA are also members of the Hi-Y Club,” which has claimed ownership of the painting. The religious painting allegedly was presented to the high school by the Hi-Y Club, a Christian student club, in the late 1940s.