An atheist group is threatening to sue Jackson City School District in southeastern Ohio over a large painting of Jesus displayed in a hallway at Jackson Middle School.
In a letter, published by WBEX here, the Freedom from Religion Foundation tells the district’s superintendent that “it is illegal for Jackson Middle School to post religious images on the walls of its schools.”
The letter goes on the say that “if a district were to promote a religion over non-religion, it would impermissibly turn any non-believing student, parent, or staff member into an outsider.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation says it was first alerted to the painting through a letter that included a photo of the painting in question. The Foundation won’t say who sent that initial compliant.
But district staff aren’t taking the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter too seriously.
District superintendent Phil Howard told WBEX:
“I’m certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wisconsin, who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down.”
Howard told the local radio station the painting of Jesus is allowed because it was student initiated. The painting was a gift from a group of students to the school in 1947.
And he told the Jackson County Daily the only way he’d take it down is if he was ordered to do so by his school board, or by a court.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio also sent a letter to Jackson City School District requesting the painting of Jesus be removed.
In a press release the ACLU of Ohio writes:
“Separation of church and state is one of our nation’s oldest traditions,” said (ACLU of Ohio Litigation Coordinator and Staff Attorney Drew) Dennis. “The founders of our country recognized that public institutions need to be welcoming, inclusive places for all citizens, regardless of their faith or creed. Public school displays that advance one particular religious tradition are neither welcoming, nor inclusive for those who may have other beliefs.”
“The fact that this portrait has been hanging for many years does not change the fact that it promotes one set of religious beliefs at the expense of all others,” added Dennis. “Jackson City Schools should take this opportunity to remove or alter their middle school display to better reflect and respect the diversity of the modern community.”