Rural Ohio school district moves decades-old Jesus portrait; ACLU not impressed

Eric Owens | Editor

The most controversial portrait of Jesus Christ ever to grace the halls of a rural southern Ohio middle school has found a new home — in the nearby high school.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued to force the removal of the large portrait of Christ because, they say, it violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by endorsing Christianity. (RELATED: ACLU sues to force removal of Ohio middle school’s 65-year-old Jesus portrait)

The portrait was a gift of the Hi-Y Club — a Christian-affiliated student club – and it had hung in the entryway of Jackson Middle School since 1947.

The Jackson Board of Education announced the move on Tuesday, reports the Logan Daily News (out of nearby Logan, Ohio).

“Based upon the report and recommendations to the school board last month, it was made clear that the portrait can only hang in a school if it is student speech,” Jackson School District Superintendent Phil Howard explained. “If the portrait belonged to the school district, it would likely violate the Establishment Clause. The report based on an actual investigation confirmed that the portrait belongs to the Hi-Y Club and they have acknowledged ownership of it.”

Attorneys for the club sent a letter to Howard saying that the club had decided to transfer the portrait from the middle school to the local high school because Hi-Y is a high school club. Current members of the club met along with club advisor Bob Eisnaugle and made the decision.

“The school district has no choice but to respect the rights of the Hi-Y Club,” Howard added, according to the Logan Daily. “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.”

By Wednesday afternoon, maintenance workers had relocated the portrait on a wall flanking a trophy case at the high school.

“The picture has been at the middle school all these years and probably should have been moved here when we moved here as a club,” Eisnaugle told the local paper.

“The club is Christian-based and it represents the club and the Christian principles that the club values,” Eisnaugle added, according to Fox News.

Apparently, the middle school used to be the high school. No one moved the Jesus portrait to the high school when it was built.

Last month, the school board voted to keep the portrait in its location in the middle school. The board also created a new policy permitting other student groups to hang other portraits related to their groups in the both the middle school and the high school.

The ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (an outfit based in Madison, Wis.) say they aren’t satisfied and will continue with their lawsuits.

“It doesn’t matter which public building the portrait is in,” ACLU spokesman Nick Worner told Fox News. “It’s an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of a public school.”

People who reside in the 2,500-student district are likely to support the school district, suggests the Logan Daily News. The threats and the eventual lawsuits by the ACLU and the FFRF have caused a stir locally. The crowds at school board meetings have been so vast that officials had to find alternate locations.

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