The Portrait of Jesus at Jackson Middle School Must Come Down

At the high school I work at, we have a lot of pictures of students up on the walls. We celebrate the students who excel in Science, Art, English, Music, Athletics, Theater, etc.

At Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio, they have this portrait instead:

Believe it or not, that’s not a student. (I know! I couldn’t believe it either!)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, responding to a complaint it received, wants the portrait taken down:

[FFRF attorney Rebecca] Markert goes on to cite numerous case files in her letter to [Superintendent Phil] Howard. “It is illegal for Jackson Middle School to post religious images on the wall of its school,” Markert wrote. “If true, the District must remove the picture of Jesus at once. We ask that you commence an immediate investigation into the allegation and take the appropriate and necessary steps to bring Jackson Middle School into compliance with the Constitution. Please respond in writing so that we may assure our complaintant, members, and those following the situation that the district has not impermissibly endorsed religion,” the letter stated.

Howard also stated that the picture hangs in the Wall of Honor portion of the school and that there are many other pictures on display in that entranceway of people who have had an impact in the district over the years.

So is the portrait an illegal promotion of religion? FFRF thinks so (PDF). They argue that anyone who saw the picture would reasonably think the school was promoting Christianity.

If a large portrait of Jesus were to hang in Jackson Middle School, an objective observer would have no doubt that it had the district’s stamp of approval.

Howard believes the school’s actions are perfectly legal:

“I, personally, don’t believe we are in violation of the Constitution,” Superintendent Howard said. “That picture was donated or presented to the district by Hi-Y Club students and has been hanging in that building since 1947. I have done some research, and because it was a student led presentation, it is permissible as far as I am concerned,” Howard explained.

Typical Christian responses: “The students did it!” “It’s tradition!” “Why do you hate freedom?!”

Also, the “Hi-Y Club,” in case you’ve never heard of it before, is a group affiliated with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). It’s not like we’re talking about a neutral group here.

There’s no reason to think the school will get away with this. They can just leave the Jesus picture up and wait for the lawsuit to come — they’ll lose, it’ll cost them money, and the students are the ones who’ll be hurt in the process — or they can do the responsible thing and take it down right now since it shouldn’t be up there in the first place. (For what it’s worth, it may have been legal to put it up in 1947, but court cases since then have said otherwise.)

It’s funny the superintendent says he’s “done some research” into this because you would think he would’ve come across the recent case of another religious symbol at a high school that got taken down: The banner in Cranston High School West that Jessica Ahlquist helped bring down. That banner was also put up by students — the first graduating class in 1963 gave it to the school as a gift — and the religious words were written by a member of the student council. As we all know by now, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that display unconstitutional because it was an illegal promotion of religion.

By the way, go back to that statement by Superintendent Howard for a moment:

… the picture hangs in the Wall of Honor portion of the school and… there are many other pictures on display in that entranceway of people who have had an impact in the district over the years…

If you watch that video embedded above, you might have seen this screenshot from it:

That’s hardly Jesus among many other portraits. That’s Jesus with some pretty sweet real estate, away from his neighbors, in a place of prominence.

This is promotion of one religion over all others.

It won’t stand.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Atheistdiva

    That’s disgusting. This takes me back to my high school teacher days when I was told that they could have prayers at graduation because it was a student-led graduation. Yeah, right. That’s why the principal was so adamant about grad behavior at the ceremony. I boycotted it my last year there. Yuck.

  • not-a-yank

    My favorite pass-time at xmas is to visit nativity scenes and point-and-laugh™ at the little blond haired and blued eyed infants lying in the cradle…

    Because everyone knows that jesus looked more like the BeeGee’s than Sadam Hussein.

    This picture provokes the same reaction from me…

  • not-a-yank

    That picture of jesus is hanging by the exit… I always figured that jesus was a bit of a back-door boy.

  • Stu Minnis

    I’m pretty sure that’s a picture of Duane Allman.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    The size and location make this clearly the government-run school giving homage to Jesus Christ.

    They may “say” that it comes from students, but the school decided to put it up, where to put it, how long to keep it there, etc.

    If a student or former student donated a picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, would it get the same prominent display for as many years? If not, then the government-run school is imposing it’s own authority to endorse Christianity over other religions.

  • Jessica

    Holy crap, Hemant! When i read the Facebook blurb to this article, I thought that this was at your school and I thought “Jeez he has dropped the ball on this one!”

  • Cecelia Baines

    Just have someone walk in, take it, and leave. Burn it. Have a lawyer at the ready for the person who will get charged with misdemeanor offenses and then take the fight all the way if necessary. it is ALWAYS easier to beg forgiveness than it is to fight for permission.

  • Question Everything

    I have the exact same reaction! Especially when my folks picked up a new lawn ornament while I was visiting them over vacation – a blond haired, blue-eyed figure for a nativity set (wiseman, not Jesus, but it was from a similar set).

  • Cecelia Baines

    No, that would cause an uproar, ‘cuz that long-haired drug-lovin’, Cher humpin’ freak would be a BAD example verses the Jesus dude who was kinda of a jackass.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Heheh…back-door man…..Well, we all know that Mary was only a virgin if you don’t count anal – ya know, the other backdoor. Mary loved the Poopenhausen play…

  • Hemant Mehta

    Umm… no, don’t do that

  • ortcutt

    I totally did not know that Jesus taught at Jackson Middle School. I wonder what subject he taught. Demonology? Oenology? Hebrew Scripture?

  • ortcutt

    Theft and destruction of property is still theft and destruction of property, even said property violates the Establishment Clause in its current setting. Bad idea all around.

  • Octoberfurst

    In the lily white church I went to when I was growing up we had Bible study books that had pictures in it of Jesus walking on water, healing the sick, etc. But in every picture Jesus was a muscular blond-haired, blue-eyed dude. We jokingly called him “Scandinavian Jesus” or “Surfer Jesus.” That image of Jesus was quite common when I was growing up. But even as a kid I knew that people from the Middle East didn’t look like that. And of course every nativity scene was just filled with people with White skin—except for one of the Wise Men who was always Black.

  • Octoberfurst

    Kind of makes you wonder what the school would have done had some student donated a big picture of Krishna. Would it have been displayed so prominently? Would the staff have no problem with it? Would the parents be ok with it? Call me crazy but I think not.

  • Eric Jacobson

    If they want to keep it and still be compliant, then they’ll have to add pictures of Mohammad, Bhudda, multiple Hindu gods, Krishna, Xenu, The Flying Spaghetti Monster and Christopher HItchens.

  • Bdole

    Who hangs a painting on a rail? Let alone half on railing and half on wall. They obviously went out of their way (to the point of bad taste in presentation) to prominently display it.

  • Rich Wilson

    When they start bringing up the “it was a gift” (what they consider to be) loophole, it’s pretty strong evidence that a) they don’t really know the law and b) they know they’re at least breaking the spirit of it.

  • Brian Westley

    Here’s a court decision from 1994 that’s nearly identical, it’s even the same Sallman portrait:

  • Gus Snarp

    When we can clearly win the court case without breaking the law? Why on earth would anyone think that was a good idea? It actually sounds a lot like the nut who was defending Kent Hovind as a tax protester, instead of the cheat he really is.

  • Gus Snarp

    Huh, now I know. I’ve seen that portrait around a lot, I believe it hung on the wall of the room where my youth group met when I was a kid.

  • observer

    Not to mention it gives Christians justifiable excuses to bully atheist students, and to do some vandalizing of their own.

  • Richard Wade

    Your suggestion is exactly the same rationalization that the school officials are using to justify their breaking the law, that it’s okay to break the law because they have a “higher purpose.” We must teach by example. If we want public school officials to obey the law, we must obey the law. Stealing and burning the picture would only galvanize people into believing that the First Amendment is a bad law, and/or that they posess special exceptions to it. Another picture would be up the next day, along with a well-funded legal defense. Work toward persuading others to have the integrity that the Constitution demands of all of us.

  • Paul Sunstone

    Why does Jesus always look like a Western European nobleman from the Middle Ages?

  • observer

    Know what? I say students should do that anyway. Let the students donate various religious figures: Bixia Yuanjin, Davlin, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Di Cang, Invisible Pink Unicorn, Forseti, Hoderi, Zues, Jupiter, Mummu, Re, Thor, Tom Servo…the hell?

    If the school can take the effort (and excuse) to kindly display one religious figure, then displaying some other religious figures shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

  • Rich Wilson

    What is easier isn’t always more ethical.

  • not-a-yank

    They could have hung Krishna next to jesus and put Mao next to him and then Rasputin next to Mao…

    That’d be really something.

  • MD

    Not Hitch! He was actually real.

  • Steve Bowen

    Nah! That’s not Jesus, it’s just some hippy white dude. Nothing like him.

  • ortcutt

    That still wouldn’t explain what the secular purpose of having religious figures in a Hall of Honor would be. If they wanted to have a comparative religion display showing images of various religious figures around the world, then there could be a valid secular educational purpose to such a display, but not a panoply of gods in a Hall of Honor

  • ortcutt

    Sixth Circuit too, so it’s binding authority in Ohio.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    Saying “Zues, Jupiter” in a summation is, as all classically educated people should know, wrong in two ways.

  • not-a-yank

    I just moved to Spain and the catho-licks celebrate King’s Day on 6 January… The black king is represented by a white dude in black-face ofc…

    Sad and funny at the same time.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    It doesn’t, but still, don’t do it

  • Art_Vandelay

    That’s not Jesus. It’s Cesare Borgia.

  • MD

    Actually was happy to see Balthazar NOT in blackface for a King’s Day concert.

  • Bad_homonym

    Actually lets hope they don’t argue that they already display a picture of the Invisible Pink Unicorn! It’s right beside the jesus pic!

  • Rhiar

    My God is the Almighty Chandelier and since it’s hanging next to Jesus I’m fine with it.


  • observer

    *Rolls eyes* all right, I confess, I was being semi-random with the names. But you get the point.

  • Santiago

    Last Día de Reyes parade I attended with my son (about two years ago) in Spain had a black Balthazar in it. Of course it was in a relatively large urban center with a somewhat diverse racial mix.

    Incidentally that was my assigned King as a child :)

  • Cecelia Baines

    Who appointed you grand poo-bah, sage and “educator” of example. Get off your high horse Richard! Seriously! You have an ego that could fill the Astrodome, but the thing that separates you from a typical ego is your self-appointed self-righteousness.

    Do not ever preach at me man! You haven’t earned that privilege.

    As for your argument, oh please, grow up. You really think the meek are going to inherit the Earth? If you do then you are sorely deluded. Fight back. Fight fire with fire.

  • Rich Wilson

    Ета ты Гриз?

  • Tom

    The problem with that so-called loophole, as far as I can see, is that while the presentation of the painting was “student led,” the acceptance and continued display of said gift were the actions of the school administration.

  • Rich Wilson

    Exactly. Which is why I try to correct even secularists when they talk about ‘taxpayer dollars’. It’s not really about the money. It’s about the endorsement.

  • Kari Lynn

    Mohammad was real. He actually existed.

  • Bad_homonym

    Ok I give up! Enlighten a non-classically educated bum! I don’t get it!


  • Gary B

    Nah, it’s the Dad from Family Ties.

  • chicago dyke

    Durga. i have a really awesome one of her holding up a severed head and sword and stepping on a dead guy. she’s blue, also.

  • meekinheritance

    I agree with you, and don’t have an explanation, but he said, “…people who have had an impact in the district over the years”. I think there’s no denying that Jesus, real or fictional, has had an impact, for better or worse, in the district over the years. I don’t know the makeup of the town, but maybe no other religious figure has had an impact there. (I’m being pedantic, not argumentative–please don’t throw stones.)

  • chicago dyke

    i have more faith that there was a guy who actually existed that later came to be called the buddha than i do the christ dood…

  • chicago dyke

    there you go again, blaming divinity for what is really just poor coaching and execution. you probably are angry at gawd for notre dame’s recent loss.


  • ortcutt

    Honoring locally-important religious figures is still a religious purpose. That ain’t going to cut it in Establishment Clause terms.

  • meekinheritance

    I, for one, am counting on it.

  • Marco Conti

    I’ll do it for him: they are one and the same. One is the Greek name and the other is the Latin name. And the spelling is Zeus.

    Just for laughs, the Etruscan name is Tinia.

    But I don’t think it’s such a big deal. Also. I am italian and I had to study this stuff. I always found it fascinating, but being born in Rome I had more exposure to it than your average american. Incidentally, my middle school was 1/8 of a mile from the colosseum and just a bit further from the Roman Forum. I used to eat lunch among the ruins. It tends to stick with you a bit more.

  • Marco Conti

    He does look like old Cesare! Same chin and distant look.

  • Felyx Leiter

    Oh, give me a break. You sound like a 5-year-old with a pyro problem.

  • David Starner

    As long as we’re being pedantic, Zeus and Jupiter are distinguishable, in the similar way that Allah and Jehovah are distinguishable. Jupiter absorbed a lot of Greek tradition, but the fact that the Romans identified their sky god with the Greek sky god doesn’t make them one and the same.

  • Octoberfurst

    I see someone didn’t take their happy pill this morning.

  • MD

    Richard takes the time to write a well thought out response to your call for theft and arson, patiently laying out the reason why it is wrong, and you get this angry?

  • King ♔ Dominic

    Surely the best first resort – before a lawsuit – is to have a student present a portrait of the FSM… and if it is refused, then sue their asses. The lawsuit is already legitimate but that would be a good way to get the case publicity and simplify the point for those who think it’s got to stay. If the FSM is accepted, hang a new deity, real or fictional, every day until the school submits.

  • Bad_homonym

    Thanks! I was aware of the sameness of them, except I figured it was more of an equivelancy. Like Christians don’t consider Allah to be the same as their god, and I just dismiss typos because I make them all the time on my stupid phone! I appreciate the heads up tho! I also envy you growing up near such amazing historical icons! Must have been pretty awesome.


  • brian

    so lets act like the christians and go tear it down and burn it.thats what would happen if that was a picture promoting atheism.

  • TCC

    As for your argument, oh please, grow up.

    Oh, FFS, there goes another irony meter.

  • allein

    “Because everyone knows that jesus looked more like the BeeGee’s than Sadam Hussein.”
    This line made me laugh…one of my coworkers in my old department has a calendar from her church every year, and a couple years ago October was a picture of Jesus that looked straight out of the ’70s… I took to calling him BeeGeesus. (When she wasn’t around, at least.)

  • Logan Woodyard

    I used to be a student there last year. I was class president. I was very aware that the picture was there and I think it should stay up. Last year our school held an annual talent show. My father had passes away the day before due to head and neck complications from surgery. I took the mic at the end of the talent show and spoke of my experience I had the day before with the death of a loved one, and God. I was not a very religious person, although from reading this comment you would probably think otherwise. I know my speech affected the kids in the audience. I shared a message that everyone, no matter if their rich or poor, from a certain race or religion, has a major struggle in their life. I wanted them to know they are not alone. Across the auditorium from which I shared my experience with God, hung that picture. If you want freedom of religion, let us have the right to worship him, in church, in public, and yes, even in schools. Its not about the money. I know of NO child OR teacher that had been offended by that picture. It was never an issue until this group sent a letter. I believe in Freedom OF Religion, not Freedom FROM Religion

  • Rich Wilson

    FFRF doesn’t do anything unless asked by a local complaint. So in fact someone in your school thinks it’s a problem, whether or not they’re comfortable saying that in that environment.

    You cannot have true freedom OF religion without freedom FROM religion. If your freedom OF religion includes the right for your school to endorse a religion, then it conflicts with someone else’s right to a different (or no) religion.

  • Christine Snake Dizard

    Will they then add a picture of Buddha, Allah (oh, wait, that’s not allowed, LOL), Pan, etc.????

  • ruth

    And people wonder why there still are wars.

  • James Bowie

    if you believe you dont need a picture!!! freedom of choise doesnt matter i guess here?

  • coyotenose

    Excuses, but not justifiable ones.

  • coyotenose

    You don’t seem to have a clue what Richard wrote, because you aren’t actually responding to his words.

  • coyotenose

    You have the right to worship anywhere you want. You lack the right to use public property to promote your religion or to enforce worship. And yes, as Rich Wilson points out, Someone at your old school DID complain. That’s how the FFRF works. That someone, and judging from statistics, probably a lot of other someones, are scared of what will be done to them if they speak out. Consider that a moment, and please Google Jessica Ahlquist.

  • Blacksheep

    What makes you think the students want to do that? According to the story, there was one complaint.

  • Blacksheep

    So did Jesus.

  • Blacksheep

    Are you honestly giving cecelia’s suggestion the credibility of discussing it??

  • Blacksheep

    Well said. The constitution promises freedom of religion, not from religion.

  • Blacksheep

    The difference (as you know) is that many people actually believe in Jesus, and nobody believes in FSM other than to make a satirical point.

    It’s an important difference.

    I also agree that if someone wanted to hang a picture of Allah, it would not go over too well. That’s a better thought experiment.

  • Blacksheep

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
    6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
    7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
    9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.

  • blah

    Just out of curiosity, couldn’t they claim they were just honoring a historical figure? I’m sure many schools have pictures of presidents and what not on the wall and no one is claiming, or forcing worship of them right?

    I think we all know that this isn’t what is happening, but couldn’t they claim that?

  • blah

    Wait, try searching in a web browser for an image of “buddy Jesus.” Even as a Christian, this one makes me laugh!

  • blah

    Then you haven’t done your homework.

  • Rich Wilson

    Because you know that some day some troll is going to come on here and say “Ha, and you say you’re ‘good with out God’!” And we’ll all roll our eyes. It’ll probably still happen, but at least the eye rolling will already be done. It’s more efficient this way.

  • Rich Wilson

    Does that include Hemant’s freedom to tell his students that God doesn’t exist?

  • m6wg4bxw

    Credit to Brad S. Sherman in that video. His tone was hilarious.

  • Barefoot Bree

    You’re lucky, Gus. It hung on my *living room* wall.

    In fact, I think it may still be there in my parents’ house.

  • TheBlackCat

    The government doesn’t have freedom of religion. Individuals do, but the only way to protect individuals’ freedom of religion is to prevent the government from giving one religion special treatment.

  • TheBlackCat

    Doesn’t help. Look up the lemon test, which is the current test for establishment clause violations. There are three prongs:

    1. has a valid secular purpose
    2. does not have the primary effect of supporting or harming religion
    3. does not cause an excessive government entanglement with religion

    If any of these fail, then it is illegal. Even if you argue 1 passes (which is what you are doing), 2 and 3 still clearly fail.

  • TheBlackCat

    Actually, the constitution most definitely DOES promise freedom from religion. It says, specifically:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ”

    it says “establishment of religion”, not “establishment of A
    religion”. If you don’t give people freedom from religion, then by
    definition you are establishing religion.

    And please don’t try to claim this only applies to congress, the 14th amendement applied it to the states as well.

  • TheBlackCat

    We’ve already been through this. In a word: no.

  •!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    I love it when they try to fight. We’ve all seen this dozens of times & the FFRF are veterans of this kind of stuff. All that’s left to find out now is whether the local school board will have the interests of it’s students as a priority over the interests of (a picture of) Jesus? It would be great if we could be sure of the answer but sadly we have seen before the effect their pastors & their religious brainwashing has on their ability for rational thought.

  • Ewan

    OK, so it’s important to you. Now take that feeling you have, and imagine that you’re stood on that stage looking a a picture of some other god, a god you don’t believe it, but you know everyone in front of you does. You know they don’t have a problem with the picture, they don’t have a problem pushing their beliefs on others, but what they sure do have a problem with is you. Because you’re different, because your beliefs are different.

    Can you still make that speech, staring at a picture of a god you don’t believe in and a room full of people that you know don’t give a crap about that?

  • Kari Lynn

    Siddhartha Gautama? He may or may not have existed, My point was that, while he was probably lying about being a prophet for god, Mohammad was a real person that existed. He was born around 570 CE.

  • Greg G.

    @ Blacksheep

    We have no early first century evidence for Jesus. The late first century evidence only shows that there were people who believed there had been a first cnetury Jesus, but they were in no position to know. The mid-first century evidence is the Epistles but they only talk about the crucifixion without providing any details. It is as if they thought the crucifixion occurred in the mythic past. They never mention a ministry, teachings, or quotes. Even the letters by his alleged companions don’t even have an anecdote. When they write something that coincides with a gospel teaching, they give their own reasoning when it would have been more convincing if they could have said they learned it from Jesus. The epistles should be the best evidence for Jesus but they tells us nothing about him except that the writers thought the crucifixion happened long ago.

    Despite church tradition to the contrary, Mark was the first gospel written. Matthew has over 90% of Mark and half of that is verbatim. But what is omitted and changed show that Matthew was improving Mark and not vice versa . (The naked boy in Gethsemane, for example.) The roots of nearly every passage in Mark can be traced to the Old Testament, Homer’s Odyssey, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and other literature of the day. The miracle stories are exaggerations of the miracles of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. The story of Legion is so blatantly a twist on the Cyclops of the Odyssey that the other gospels dropped it. These’s not much left for oral tradition. Mark was probably written as a midrash to explain the destruction of Jerusalem but the other three gospels took it literally since we see Mark’s obvious fictions in each of them.

    So we have no good evidence for a historical Jesus and the best evidence is actually evidence to the contrary.

  • GDad

    Mostly, but not completely OT….

    Egypt disallows students in school who do not belong to three Abrahamic faiths.

  • allein

    One more than should be necessary.

  • meekinheritance

    Buddha isn’t/wasn’t a god. Based on that, and a college course I took in Eastern Religions, I’m willing to believe there was a real person named, or at least titled, Buddha.

  • Rich Wilson

    Here’s some local news coverage

    Not bad, it includes some comments from people supporting the removal, and a response from FFRF explaining that they are a membership organization, with members in every state.

  • Cortex_Returns

    There’s a crucifixion joke somewhere in all this just waiting to be told… Jesus, hanging, hmmm.

  • American

    Jesus is a real historical figure who changed the world. Denying that is both dishonest and an attempt to eradicate an important piece of history. The American culture is intertwined with the gospel of love and righteousness that Jesus taught. What part of that teachigng bothers you so much that you want every sign of it removed? The picture does not have to come down, and we who love our country and all it stands for will see to that.