After 66 years and some location changes, a painting of Jesus that used to hang in the Jackson City school district has been removed.
The painting had recently come under fire after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation received a letter in January complaining about the painting’s presence in the school.
But now, faced with mounting legal fees, the district has opted to voluntarily remove the depiction of Jesus.
“It’s a major victory,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF. “And it was a major violation.”
Gaylor says she’s surprised the conflict got this far.
“This really was a very egregious violation because we’re not a Christian nation, and the school board is not a Christian school board,” Gaylor says. “It’s a very in your face message from the school that we favor Christians.”The FFRF and the ACLU of Ohio had requested a restraining order asking a Judge to force the district to remove the painting. They now plan to rescind that request. But that’s not the end of the story; the court case still has to be settled.
“It’s a victory for the establishment clause,” says Nick Worner of the ACLU of Ohio. “It’s pretty clear to us this is what needed to happen.”
Worner says it’s premature to declare the case a full victory for the FFRF and the ACLU of Ohio, since the district can still opt to fight the case in court.
“But for the time being we’ve thought that the painting should be taken down, they’ve taken it down, and that’s a good thing,” he says.
According to the Associated Press, the reason district officials decided to remove the painting was because the lawsuit they were facing would have cost too much.
“At the end of the day, we just couldn’t roll the dice with taxpayer money,” Superintendent Phil Howard told The Associated Press. “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.”
The Columbus Dispatch reports that the district’s insurance company refused to pay legal fees for the ensuing court battle.
The painting was presented as a gift to the school from the Hi-Y club, a Christian student organization, in 1947. It had formerly hung in the Jackson Middle School but was moved to the high school after the lawsuit was filed earlier this year.
StateImpact Ohio has reached out to Jackson City School officials for comment, but has not yet heard back from them.