ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation pocket $80,000 off Jesus portrait shakedown

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The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation will pocket a cool $80,000 in legal fees for all their hard work in suing a rural southern Ohio school district over a controversial portrait of Jesus Christ in federal court.

The five anonymous plaintiffs in the lawsuit — three parents and two students — will receive the paltry sum of $3,000 each, reports The Columbus Dispatch.

The grand total of $95,000 is part of a settlement accepted on Friday by U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley.

The portrait had hung in the entryway of Jackson Middle School since the Truman administration. It was presented to the school by the Hi-Y Club — a Christian-affiliated student club — and stayed in the middle school building after a new high school was built.

After the Establishment Clause lawsuit was initially filed in February, the school district first countered by moving the portrait to the high school, where the Hi-Y Club resides.

District officials also swore to fight the suit, arguing that the Christian group had the right to hang a picture of Jesus inside a local school. The portrait hung on a wall among outstanding alumni and various famous personages. (RELATED: ACLU sues to force removal of Ohio middle school’s 65-year-old Jesus portrait)

In April, the Jackson Board of Education decided to capitulate after the district’s insurance company refused to pay the costs of defending the lawsuit. The Jesus portrait was moved to an art-room storage area.

However, the plaintiffs, through their attorneys with the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, were not satisfied. They argued that it was still unconstitutional for the picture of Jesus to be in tucked away the art-room storage area in the high school building because someone still might see it.

The plaintiffs were also unhappy when school officials brought out the offending portrait on May 2 for an unspecified prayer meeting.

“This case could have ended before it began if the school had simply acknowledged that it is not the government’s place to endorse one specific religion in a public school that children are legally required to attend,” James Hardiman, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, told the Dispatch. “This is a basic constitutional principle backed up by decades of case law.”

In a statement obtained by the Associated Press, Phil Howard, the school district superintendent, called the settlement a “best-case scenario.”  He also noted that the district’s insurer will disburse the $95,000 in fees and damages. Taxpayers will not be on the hook.

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