School Board Invents Absurd Rationale for Jesus Picture

The Jackson City School Board in Ohio has voted to keep a picture of Jesus hanging in its middle school and, after consulting with attorneys, have invented a thoroughly ridiculous post hoc rationalization that they think makes it all constitutional.

The Jackson City Schools board offered a constitutional justification of its own in voting 4-0 to keep the portrait up in its middle school, saying it must protect students’ free speech rights. The vote drew cheers and applause from the dozens of people gathered in the elementary school gymnasium.

After huddling with attorneys in closed session for more than an hour, the school board said the portrait belongs to the student group that put it up, the Hi-Y club. The portrait’s frame is inscribed with the club’s name and the Christian-based service group is the portrait’s owner, not the school, the board said.

The board said the portrait is part of a “limited public forum,” and that the Jackson schools will allow other student clubs to hang portraits appropriate to their organizations.

“We’re in a predicament where we have to balance things,” said Superintendent Phil Howard said after the meeting. “We can’t make that kind of endorsement (of religion) as a government entity. But we also can’t infringe upon the rights of our student groups and our students.”

So the picture “belongs” to a student group that apparently no longer exists and it’s now suddenly a public forum when it never was before and that makes it all okay. And of course, the cheers and applause from the crowd was because of their strong support of limited public forums and student speech, not because they think they’re taking a stand for Jesus against the evil heathens. If a student group decided to put up a picture of Muhammad, it would take about 3 seconds for that rationale to vanish into thin air.

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About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • Cuttlefish

    The articles I have read say the student group does still exist, and has continuously. Of course, it’s not like their meeting place is under the painting, and it’s not like any other student group’s posters or paintings will get to share that space. The real context (not their imagined one) is crystal clear, and it should take a judge about half a heartbeat to decide.

  • daved

    I’m sure it won’t happen, but it would be hilarious if a few students got together, formed an “Islamic Studies Group” and demanded the right to put up a picture of Mohammed. Well, OK, I suppose that’s heretical to many Muslims, but something similar, anyway. As Ed says, the “limited public forum” would vanish like a soap bubble in a hailstorm.

  • TxSkeptic

    Is there a secular student group at this school? Maybe a science club would do, but how about a group putting up a large portrait of Robert Greene Ingersol, or Darwin, or Voltaire. Too many choices to list here.

  • raven

    The ownership is irrelevant and a red herring.

    They should just ask the student group to come and get their painting.

    No way is a public school foyer a public venue these days. Not after Newtown. Most schools control outside visits as part of a security plan. They want to make it hard for random shooters to just walk in and kill a few dozen kids. Duh, this isn’t a complilcated principle.

    In my local area, some guy tried to gain access to the elementary school under some pretext. A background check indicated he was a sexual predator of children who had recently been released from prison. Last I heard, the police were looking for him to ask him a few questions.

  • Cuttlefish

    Having seen the videos of school board meetings, I do not personally hope for any student group to stand up for the non-christians in their community. There is good reason the plaintiffs are maintaining anonymity. While it would be wonderful indeed to have yet another of the brave individuals who pop up now and again in these cases, it cannot be surprising that they are rare. Which, of course, the majority will take as evidence that they simply do not exist. Tyranny of the majority in action.

  • Bronze Dog

    One thing I’d like to ask a lot of these people is why they have to twist themselves into knots to come up with these rationales to get a result that appears identical to that of an unethical and illegal endorsement of religion.

    Of course, I know the answer: They don’t care about the rule of law or religious freedom. They’re just looking for loopholes in the law so they can get away with anything.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Are they selflessly defending student rights, or selfishly trying to guarantee themselves a spot in heaven?

  • Draken

    Why something as mundane as Mo or someone who really existed? Go the whole mile and put up Yog-Sothoth.

  • raven

    One thing I’d like to ask a lot of these people is why they have to twist themselves into knots to come up with these rationales to get a result that appears identical to that of an unethical and illegal endorsement of religion.

    Because their god is missing in action.

    The all powerful creator of everything seems to be sick, dead, apathetic, or communing with his new chosen beings, giant squids swimming in methane seas on Kpax IV.

    God once got mildly annoyed with us and killed all but 8 people. These days he needs humans to defend him.

    Or it is just xian territorial marking, like a dog peeing on a tree.

  • Marcus Ranum

    At least they’re not bearing false witness or anything.

  • AnatomyProf

    Harvey Milk? What do you think the chance is they have a LGBT club, 0.01%?

  • fifthdentist

    @ TxSkeptic

    Or Alan Turing.

    “Ain’t no party like a gay-hatin’ party, cause a gay-hatin’ party don’t stop.”

  • Mr Ed

    The science club could put up Carl Sagan, LGBT could put up Harvey Milk, The gaming/role playing club could put up Cthulhu and so forth until the hall is over flowing with pictures. I guess first up first down then.

  • Jasper of Maine

    The whole approach of delegating it to students’ free speech already has significant precedent of being steamrolled over. Are their lawyers actually lawyers?

  • democommie

    “The vote drew cheers and applause from the dozens of people gathered in the elementary school gymnasium.”

    The majority of whom, if not the total number, were NOT students.

    Is this one of the school boards that retained the KKKristianist Dewey, Cheatem and Howe team from LibertyGOD Law Firm?

  • The Lorax

    Sweet, public forum! I worship Lolth and the Flying Spaghetti Monster… so I can has drow pasta porn plastered next to Jesus? Public forum! Freedom of speech!

    I say, have the lawyers back off for a month, and have the students put up a nice array of gods and deities that they believe in.. riiiight next to Jesus. Give it a month for the backlash to really take hold, and then bring the lawyers back in.

    Normally, I’m fine with a trial to uphold the law.. but at some point, it needs to be made clear to the fools that they are fools.

  • Bronze Dog

    The whole approach of delegating it to students’ free speech already has significant precedent of being steamrolled over. Are their lawyers actually lawyers?

    I doubt they’re paying that sort of attention. They don’t research, they pass on memes much like urban legends about how to pass a sobriety test or prevent pregnancy. They feel superior for thinking they’ve found a way out of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. When it fails, they whine about how unfair it is to be subject to the same rules as everybody else.

    Their lawyers may be incompetent, or they may not care about the rationale so long as they get paid to argue it. There’s probably a lawyer subculture that skirts the borders of acceptable behavior to attract money from theocrats. There’s certainly individual lawyers who seem to do that with various issues.

  • uzza

    they’re following precedent. You want torture? Get a lawyer’s opinion that it’s legal. You want assassinations with drones? Get a lawyer’s opinion that it’s legal. You want pictures of Jesus? …. … …

  • John Horstman

    Oh, but it’s just so easy for a motivated student activist to expose the blatant bullshit of which this rationalization is composed. I’d start with this poster in my newly-declared public forum, though obviously FSM, Mohammed, and Satan are good options too.

  • kermit.

    Their law firm, Billy Bob and Sons Legal Emporium, offers attorney services with expertise in divorce and family law, tenant-landlord disputes, criminal law, DUI intercessions, second amendment rights, majority rights first amendment issues, avoidance of illegal income tax code obligations, and establishment of independent states.


    Also, free classes on the True Meaning of the Constitution on Tuesdays in the Eagle Lodge.

  • kermit.

    Cuttlefish, it requires not only brave individuals (adolescents facing down a whole community!), but also brave and independent families. It’s hard to take a stand if your parents keep pulling the rug out from under you. With that in mind, it’s pretty gutsy just starting a lawsuit – there’s a good chance they’ll be found out.

  • dmcw

    The students need to form a Jesus And Mo society. That would sort things out in a jiffy.

  • eric

    Are their lawyers actually lawyers?

    Yeah, this bothered me too. I am not at all surprised that the board tried to come up with a cockamamie reason for keeping it up. I am a lot more surprised the lawyers did not advise them against it. Recall that even in Dover, the school lawyer basically acted on a brake on the SB.

    Uzza @18: consulting the lawyer is probably an administrative requirement anytime someone threatens to sue the school board over policy. That is why school districts have lawyers, after all. In Dover there was also another big reason why they did it: the district’s insurance would only pay for legal costs if the board first consulted a lawyer and the lawyer said their policy was legal. If they didn’t consult one or they did and the lawyer said it was illegal, the board members themselves would’ve been held personally liable for any award. All of which is a long-winded way of saying: there’s nothing nefarious or cynical about them consulting lawyers before coming to this decision.

  • iangould


    Harvey Milk

  • chilidog99
  • uzza

    there’s nothing nefarious or cynical about them consulting lawyers

    No, there isn’t, but way to miss the point. When your handpicked lawyers come back with an opinion that contradicts every known precedent, common sense, and the law of gravity, there’s something nefarious about running with it. I would’ve said stupid as well except for that lately it seems to work.