A painting of Jesus that has recently come under fire for promoting one religion over others inside a public school has been moved – into another school building.
Officials at the Jackson City School District moved the painting of Jesus from the middle school to the high school. They say the painting was a gift from the Hi-Y club, a Christian student organization. Since that club is in the high school, they say, the painting should be too.
The ACLU of Ohio and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the district earlier this year for “endorsing one religion improperly.”
School officials insist the painting is protected by the First Amendment because it was given to the school as a gift. The district also passed a policy last month that established “limited public forums,” or spaces in the school for student speech and to hang images of “inspirational figures,” such as Jesus Christ.
Jackson Schools Superintendent Phil Howard says the decision to move the painting came after last month’s school board meeting. Based on a report commissioned by the district, “it was made clear that the portrait can only hang in a school if it is school speech.”
If the painting did in fact belong to the district, it would probably violate the Establishment Clause. But, Howard says, the painting belongs to the Hi-Y Club.
“Under the policy that the school board adopted last month a limited public forum was created at both the middle and the high school. The Hi-Y Club, as the owner of the portrait, has the right to hang the portrait in either the middle or high school. The Hi-Y Club has decided to exercise that right and move the portrait to the high school, where its current members are all students.
The school district has no choice but to respect the rights of the Hi-Y Club. Failure to do so might open the district to a lawsuit by the Hi-Y Club or violate the Establishment Clause by turning the portrait into government speech.”
WSAZ Channel 3 spoke to Bob Eisnaugle, an art teacher at Jackson and the Hi-Y club’s advisor. He says the painting should have been moved when the high school moved into another building.
“It’s been in the wrong place in the past,” Eisnaugle said. “I think we’ve been up here five or six years. It should have been up here all this time.”
Eisnaugle says they wanted it moved to the newer high school because with Hi-Y being a high school club, that is the logical place for it.
“It’s very religious of course,” he said, “but our club is a Christian-based organization, so Jesus has always been a part of our club.”
It’s unclear what effect this move will have on the ongoing lawsuit, but ACLU of Ohio spokesman Nick Worner says their stand has not changed.