School District Will Allow Giant Picture of Jesus to Remain Hanging in Middle School

The administrators at Jackson Middle School (in Jackson, Ohio) have decided to keep the giant picture of Jesus hanging on a wall in their school:

After receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation asking them to remove the painting, the school officials had to weigh whether it was worth defending a sign that had been hanging for 75 years (“Tradition!”)… or avoid a costly lawsuit and do what’s right for the students by taking it down.

Last night, the school board announced that they would throw away money that could be spent on their kids’ education by leaving the picture up there and eventually losing a lawsuit. (Though they probably didn’t use those exact words…)

Superintendent Phil Howard addressed a crowd of hundreds who attended the school board meeting at Jackson High School Tuesday night, saying the board fully supported his decision to leave the portrait in place.

Reaction from those in attendance made it clear which side the majority was on, as those in favor of the picture remaining were applauded. Those in favor of it being removed were booed.

The Constitution is supposed to protect the rights of the minority, not allow the majority to impose their will on everyone else. This is such an obvious promotion of Christianity that FFRF’s Rebecca Markert called it “one of the most egregious” violations of church/state separation she’d ever seen.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

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.

  • ortcutt

    As a commenter on the previous article pointed out, there is binding case law on this exact issue, Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools, 33 F.3d 679 (6th Cir. 1994). I have a hard time imagining a case that is more on point.

    What the school board is saying is that they have no interest in following the law and that they want to waste taxpayers’ money because of their lack of interest in following the law.

    • abb3w

      The turnout at the meeting suggests that the school board is spending taxpayers’ money exactly how the taxpayers want it spent.

      • ortcutt

        Some taxpayers. Taxpayers aren’t monolithic anywhere. All taxpayers, even a minority of them have a reasonable expectation that local governments won’t spend money deliberately breaking the law and defending their law-breaking in court.

  • FookedonHonix

    If Jesus was here, he’d probably remove the picture himself.

    • Greg Kowal

      He wouldn’t even recognize himself. He would be asking, who is this blond dude?

      • Theseus

        Yeah, even today, finding someone with light hair, blue eyes, and light skin that are native to the region around the sea of Galilee is pretty rare. 2000 years ago? Fuggetaboutit!

      • FookedonHonix

        Just another reason he would remove it.

      • James Buchy

        In all probability, an accurate picture of Jayzus would likely resemble Osama Bin Laden rather than the white bread European portrait we all know and love. :-)

  • Brian Westley

    It can’t be 75 years, the painting (Sallman’s “Head of Christ”) was only created in 1940 and wasn’t issued as a print until 1941. The article has the wrong year it was donated (1937); other articles say 1947, which would be 65 years or so.

    • ortcutt

      They also couldn’t get FFRF’s name right and they said 65 once and 75 the other time, so we’re clearly dealing with the bush leagues of journalism here.

      • Rich Wilson

        Maybe I have low expectations, but I was impressed they included a couple of people who supported the removal, put in a comment from FFRF clarifying that they are a national organization that response to local complaints. Pretty impressed with people willing to speak up in that crowd. I’d be shaking at that mic.

        • allein

          I have the same reaction when they actually make clear what FFRF’s role is. It’s so rare..

          • Frank Walton

            The FFRFs tax returns can be found on line.

  • Chad’z Adventures

    People should hang up a picture of Mohammed next to him and see how long that stays up.

  • Chad’z Adventures

    People should hang up a picture of Mohammed next to him and see how long that stays up.

    • ortcutt

      Ironically, I’m not sure who would be most opposed to that, Christians, Muslims, or Secularists.

      • Robert Taylor

        *Gasp* Finally, something everyone can agree on!

      • Rich Wilson

        Ya, but what I think we CAN do is rank those groups in terms of how likely it is that they would, to use pre-school speech, “use their words”.

      • coyotenose

        In the U.S., my money is on Christians to be the most vehement and potentially violent about it. Of course there would be riots on other continents, but here? Christians would break into the school just to vandalize it. Muslims would have a peaceful protest.

    • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      I was thinking more along the lines of the Flying Spaghetti Monster having an equally sized portrait right next to Jesus but maybe Mohammad could be on one side and FSM on the other. This would be generous to let JC stay in the center!

    • Theseus

      Yup. The best way to expose their “freedom of religion” bullshit is to politely agree with them and then casually suggest that we should also put up other pictures or symbols reflecting other people’s faiths: “Yeah man your right. Say, I know a couple of Chinese kids that are Buddhists that go to that school; wouldn’t it be great to put up a picture or statue of Buddha as well? I mean we’re all talking about religious freedom right”? Then watch the back peddling and hypocrisy begin. The same thing applies to school prayer. Works every F****** time!

      • Theseus

        BTW yeah I know it’s being deceptive, but I always reveal the gotcha moment at the end. Lol

    • The Captain

      A picture of Mohammed! The muslims thugs would burn the school down in a week.

    • anniewhoo

      Assuming both men existed, and considering the incredible close proximity of Jesus and Muhammad both geographically and chronologically, the two paintings might look like a set of twins.

  • chicago dyke

    i repeat my demand for a Durga image to be erected. holding a severed head dripping blood all over the dead body beneath her.

    • baal

      I demand my right to have my religion(s) respected. The christians get jesus to rule the entrance to the building. We can have classroom shrine space set aside. I want some classrooms to have spaces for the Loa (and school provided chickens twice a year) and (one day a week is ok) more room for my Ganesh effigies, may he remove any obstacles before me. We also need to burn incense so the kids with asthma can go sit in the hall.

    • coyotenose

      Not violent enough to put beside Christian symbols I’m afraid.

  • Octoberfurst

    I loved some of the comments of those who supported keeping the picture there: “The people want it so keep it up!”, “If you don’t like it, look the other way!” “you see that picture and you think, somebody still loves me.” Yeah screw the law! Screw those who aren’t Christian! We love Jeebus here in Ohio! That’s what it boils down to. It’s a case of Christians feeling privileged to impose their beliefs on others. Like I said before have someone put up a big picture of Vishnu & see how long that stays up.
    So the school board is going to fight it eh? Ok fine. Let them waste tax-payer dollars on a fight they are going to lose. Idiots!

  • Cecelia Baines

    Here is the email I just sent Mr. Howard, the super of the district:

    Mr. Howard;

    As an American and political activist who happens to have no religious affiliation I must ask you several questions. I would expect honest answers absent of spin, obfuscation and rhetoric.

    (1) How can you justify keeping up the large picture of Jesus in your school? You must know you are going to be sued and lose. Which brings up the next question:

    (2) Knowing this is a flagrant violation of the Constitution and laws of the USA are you suggesting you are setting a good example to your pupils? If you break the law when convenient for your purposes, why should the children not do the same if you believe you are role models for their minds?

    (3) The money that will be spent on defending your indefensible position is money that should be better used for the children. Also, this money is tax-payer money, and many of your tax payers believe the Constitution is a good thing as well as have no religious beliefs.

    Your actions and behavior here is the precise opposite of positive role-modeling and is an affront to the laws and decency of this nation.

    I urge you to do the right thing and remove the picture.

  • Jasper

    Just decided to become a dues-paying member of FFRF. They kick ass (which isn’t to slight AU, ACLU, MAAF etc)

    • John

      They all compliment each other. It all depends were you want the focus.

  • busterggi

    I’d like the school authorities to prove that is a reliable portrait of Jesus rather than a man-made conception. Hate to have them worshipping an idol, very un-Ten-Commandment of them.

  • allein

    “Those in favor of it being removed were booed.”

    Well, that’s mature.

  • Atheism Sucks

    Dan Barker makes a pretty good living at the FFRF.

    He is not doing this for free.

    And he doesn’t give a damn if he hurts the kids either.

    Both the Theists and Atheists are using the kids to score points.

    A Pox On Both Your Houses

    • GloomCookie613

      Too obvious. Troll harder or not at all.

      • John

        Not obvious enough for some.
        Don’t feed the Trolls!

    • Rich Wilson

      You mean Dan Barker doesn’t live a life of abject poverty? Wow, wait till the pastors at my local Mega churches hear this!

    • allein

      Non-profit doesn’t mean the employees work for free…

    • Brian Westley

      How does removing a religious icon “hurt kids”?

    • Spamamander

      The head of the Salvation Army is one of the lower-paid CEO’s of an xian charity- making about $100k when living expense grants and salary are combined.

      The Educational Media Foundation (xian nonprofit) has a CEO making a base salary of 375k, bonuses of 121k, and world-class travel accommodations that they do not report as income.

      The head of the Trinity Broadcasting Network makes about $500k

      Expecting someone to do full-time work for free is a bit silly, don’t you think?

      • Patterrssonn

        I doubt very much the head of the Sally-Anne has living expenses.

    • RobertoTheChi

      Go troll somewhere else.

    • Greg G.

      Usually, FFRF sends a letter, the superintendent consults a lawyer, and decides the proper thing to do it to remove the offending item. Sometimes the superintendent consults a shyster who realizes he can make a wad of cash by taking the case. Maybe the lawyer’s religion is bigger than his consideration for the district. Maybe the lawyer is an idiot. That’s who hurts the kids.
      It doesn’t seem like the school board or superintendent has consulted a lawyer, yet. That may be the problem.

    • Octoberfurst

      So you’re down on both theists and atheists? That’s interesting, since you call yourself “Atheism Sucks” I assumed that you were a theist. But if you are not a theist or an atheist what are you? And please enlighten me, O wise one, as to how taking down the picture “hurts the kids.’ And also explain why you think Barker is getting rich off running FFRF. Evidence please! I’ll wait for your response. >sound of crickets chirping<

      • Uncle Bobolink

        FFRF tax returns have been made available on line.
        The lawsuits take money from the kids. Sure, the atheists have a reason.
        And they have made a decision that the reason is good enough to hurt the kids.
        Just face it. A job needs to be done, and if kids are hurt, they are collateral damage.
        Both the Theists and Atheists in question are willing to do this.
        Face it.

        • Octoberfurst

          Ok so now you’re “uncle Bobolink”? First of all the lawsuits wouldn’t happy if the schools acted in a legal and responsible manner. If you want to complain about money being taken from “the kids” look at the school board not FFRF. Because FFRF only takes schools to court when it has to. So I am sorry if standing up for Constitutional principals offends you but I don’t want to see schools violating the Constitution. (Apparently you have no problem with that.) And you have never explained how taking down the picture of Jesus “hurts the kids.”

    • Question Everything

      Name a person doing a job (and it is a job, even if it is for a non-profit) that isn’t being paid for their time, please. Priests are paid. Pastors are paid. Positions at the Red Cross are paid. Yes, they’re not doing their jobs for free, because they need money for little things like rent and food and such.

      FFRF is requesting that the school follow established law. Why is that bad?

    • Carmelita Spats

      The ugly-ass picture of a 33-year-old virgin carpenter DOES hurt kids because it is an AESTHETIC nightmare!!! Kitsch much? Do YOU want to go to work and have a 33-year-old virgin carpenter PEEPING at you from behind the water cooler all damn day? Are you able to comprehend the notion of “creating a HOSTILE work environment”? OMA (Oh. My. Art.), that genital-free Jeebus is so ugly his momma hung pork chops around his neck just to get the dog to play with him…He looks like the spawn of Fabio and Pastor Ted Haggard and Astroglide and the Holy Spirit…The haircut is ALL WRONG and he needs a tan, a sexy tan…Did you even SEE the ugly-ass tunic Jeebus is wearing? EWWWWW!!!

      If you are going to terrorize minors and small rodents with ugly-ass paintings of a 33-year-old virgin carpenter (who was his own father bein’ as his Momma was impregnated by Himself since the Father and Son are one) then I suggest the following, attached, Mexican Jesus…If my kid went to that school, I would DEMAND the following Mexican Jesus to be placed in a prominent place…Died for your sins? LOL! That makes about as much sense as my neighbor taking a blowtorch to his nuts for my mortgage! Praise!

      • Uncle Bobolink

        Even worse… the Carpenter was a JEW!
        And we know how the New Atheists feel about JEWS.
        It is utterly hilarious that one representation of Jesus has caused so much Butthurt.

        • John (not McCain)

          I wouldn’t object to a representation of Jesus, on the cross, naked and erect, but then I was raised Catholic.

        • abb3w

          …how the New Atheists feel about Jews? Slightly positive, about the same as they do on gays, blacks, whites, southerners, asian-americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Feminists, Liberals, and hindus; less positive than about environmentalists, the middle class, the poor, and the working class; more positive than they do about big business, the federal government, congress, the SCOTUS, the rich, and conservatives; and way more positive than they do about christian fundamentalists and illegal immigrants?

          (“New Atheists” approximated by religiously unaffiliated considering the Bible as man’s fables, variables v085251a(-1) and v083184(3) in the 2008 NES.)

    • Chasity Channell

      Dan Barker gets paid for speaking engagements and debates too. I have yet to see atheist use kids to score points, most atheist I know allow their children to read and make their own decisions on the origins of life. Unlike Christians, who indoctrinate their children early and encourage the bulling of other children who do not agree. Give me an example.

      • Uncle Bobolink

        These lawsuits, which take money from the kids school districts, are an example fo the atheists using the kids to score points.
        Sure, they have their reasons.
        And they beleive their reasons are important enough to hurt the kids if necessary.
        I am not saying, therefore, that there is no rationale for hurting the kids.
        Just admit that they made a choice to use the kids and decided their reasons were good enough.

        • Dezzydez

          So you are okay with school districts violating the law? Well the FFRF does not think that schools should be violating the first amendment and the religious freedom of non-christian students.

        • PhiloKGB

          There’s an almost ridiculously easy way to preempt a lawsuit in these type cases: Follow the law and remove the offending material. This isn’t some significant burden on the school district; it will not create some new interpretation of the law. And if a lawsuit is brought, it will be done by a member of the community with children attending the school.
          Honestly, if I had to guess I’d say any legal advice the school has received amounts to, “Make’em sue! This’ll be the case that finally gets all that church-state business overturned.” Borderline malpractice, that.

          • Anonymous Atheist

            Any restrictions on their ability to slather everyone’s eyes and ears with Jesus spam are obviously a significant burden.

        • Rich Wilson

          That’s kind of like getting snooty at a cop giving you a warning for speeding. Because you’ll have to take the time to go to court to fight it if you keep speeding and she catches you again and gives you a ticket.

    • Guest
    • freemage
    • MichaelBrice

      I ignore thee, I ignore thee, I ignore thee.

      Shit! You are still here.

    • Guest

      | |
      | |
      | |
      | |
      |_____*__ |

      Not even worthy of a small flame.

      *sigh* what even happened to the good trolls from the days of yore?

      • Uncle Bobolink

        Looks to me like he got to you!
        U Mad?

    • Isilzha

      Let’s get a bunch of pictures of Hindu gurus alongside that jeebus picture and see what you think then.

  • Gus Snarp

    I had to look up where Jackson is on a map. Having done so, I’m not surprised at all about this decision, but I’m very concerned about the people who oppose the picture being displayed in the school. I hope that if a lawsuit is filed the complainant is allowed to remain anonymous, otherwise I would seriously fear for his or her safety. After what Jessica Ahlquist went through in New England, I’m deeply concerned about what could happen in the heart of Appalachia.

    • ortcutt

      Yeah, they’ll have to find a brave plaintiff here. The Supreme Court has restricted taxpayer standing, so it will probably need to be someone who sees the painting, probably a student.

      • Greg G.

        The FFRF wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t someone complaining about it. They can usually keep the identity of the complaintant secret when there is a chance of community bullying.

  • Sven2547

    The same portrait hangs in the foyer of the church I used to go to. The congregation was overwhelmingly descended from Swedes and Norwegians, and as if to underscore the point they have a big picture of a conspicuously blond-haired fair-skinned Jesus. Pretty funny, in retrospect.

    • Sue Blue

      Yeah, back when I was still a churchgoer in our pasty-white town, we had this same picture in the church vestibule. I remember getting in trouble asking why Jesus wasn’t dark-haired and swarthy like other Jewish Palestinians. He’d have been a freak in those days. Except for Roman slaves from Europe, such light hair and eyes would have been unknown in the Middle East. Can’t these idiots even get that right? Talk about your blatant WASP racism, right there.

  • Sacha Mero

    Wow. As if our school districts aren’t short enough on funds they have to waste money to defend hanging this picture, which is clearly not allowed by the separation of church and state clause. Perhaps they should become a religious school and turn down all federal funds if they want to keep Jesus hanging in all his glory.

  • LifeinTraffic

    I really wish there was a way to hold the asshats who make these clearly illegal decisions personally responsible for abuse of public funds. These “we’re going to fight this and win because we’re totally different than all of those other cases that the courts have ruled on already…Because Jeebus loves us more,” jackasses don’t care about the public funds they’re wasting–it’s not “real” money to them. Someone else (ie, the taxpayers) foot the bill, so who cares if they waste it frivolously? All that matters is it’ll get them re-elected to the school board, because the Xtian majority will be so impressed that they stood up to the “oppression” of Xtians, even if they lose.

    If they thought this kind of crap might come out of their own pockets, maybe they’d think twice. I know it’s a pipe dream, of course.

    • Sue blue

      Exactly. Those who want the picture to remain should have to come up with the legal funds themselves instead of wasting taxpayer dollars. They’ll still lose, but you’ve got a good point – maybe there’d be fewer of these ridiculous religious “stands” if their own wallets were on the line.

    • eric

      “I really wish there was a way to hold the asshats who make these clearly illegal decisions personally responsible for abuse of public funds.”

      Hypothetically there is. IANAL but I think the public servant defense becomes invalid when an official is doing something that no one could reasonably consider to be part of their job, or so flagrantly violates a law that no one could reasonably claim its a result of some misinterpretation or honest disagreement about how to apply the law. Think things like looking at porn on school computers or stealing money from a school account. When they do stuff like that, they can be held individually criminally (and civilly) at fault.
      The problem is, judges are almost certainly not going to rule this is the case when some non-lawyer misinterprets the 1st amendment. Honest misinterpretations are just too common. OTOH, if the principal’s legal advisor tells him, point blank, that what he is about to do is illegal, and then he does it anyway, maybe this will apply.

      • abb3w

        Almost certainly not, once there’s backing from the school board.

  • Greg G.

    That’s not a picture of Jesus. That’s Sawyer, from the TV show “Lost”.

    • Tainda

      Not hot enough

    • Edmond

      Looks more like Desmond.

      • Tainda

        Not hot enough.

        Sorry! Had to do it rofl

    • Antinomian

      Looks more like Jeff Spicolli contemplating on how to cut Mr. Hand’s class do do some bong hits.

  • WoodyTanaka

    Go get them!!! Sue the pants off them. Hopefully the insurers for this community deny coverage for the suit so it really stings the community and so other communities will stop this lawlessness.

  • Isilzha

    OK, well, then what about bringing the school other religions pictures and insisting on having them hung next to the jeebus picture?

  • Chasity Channell

    I hate to break it to the people of Jackson but this picture is coming down. There has been a similar case in which the judge ruled against the school. Ohio’s school system does not have the money to fight this. If they do they will lose. That’s a promise! What for? A cheap painting from a garage sale, that is not even accurate. I hate to break it to the Christians but Jesus would not be white. Assuming he lived at all. Which I doubt.

    • archer

      The school board is playing politics with public funds. They don’t want the heat of taking it down; they prefer to be able to blame a court for requiring them to do so. This way they can tell voters they did all they could do.

  • Renshia

    Funny they don’t seem to be letting anyone comment about the news article. I guess if your whole town is going to fight the constitution, the best place to start is by quashing your first amendment rights.

    Lions and

    • ortcutt

      The First Amendment only governs state action. This is a private news station, so they’re not within the scope of the First Amendment.

      • Renshia

        Well that’s just a continuation of the people booing and trying to intimidate those who stand up against the violation.

  • Greg G.

    I went to Ohio University and played a lot of basketball and softball off campus in pick-up games and leagues as far north as Jackson. I had many friends from that area. They’re mostly salt-of-the-earth types of people. I also knew a guy who was shot because he was driving through Jackson in a car that looked like a car that was parked outside the killer’s ex-girlfriend’s house.
    Jackson is up the road from Chauncey. It’s pronounced “chance-y”. Back in the prohibition days, if someone asked for directions to “Chauncey” with the wrong pronunciation, they were assumed to be a revenuer and given wrong directions by the grandparents of the people of Jackson. It’s no wonder that they are defiant to the law.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    In AA it is said, “that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is insanity.” Are these people so myopic that they are blinded to current events transpiring around them? The jeebus portrait is not the problem here, the problem is that these educators have lost their world view. Their world exist as far as the county line.

  • Antinomian

    I spent many childhood and teenage summers in the Jackson area at family farms and and RLDS church camp. The best thing these students can do for themselves is to excel at readin’, writin’ and Route 33 North to Columbus…

  • dah1

    A couple quick points.

    First – That is not a picture of Jesus. It is of some white guy with long hair and a beard. Jesus probably resembled Yassar Arafat more than that picture.

    Second – simply displaying a picture of the person does not imply “endorsement” of that person or their point of view. My school has a picture of Obama. Does everyone agree with our President? Nope. Before they had a picture of Bush. Same deal. A picture of Mohammad would not last because that would be an affront to the Muslim. I’ll bet there are pictures of other historical figures all over that school. Jesus is one of the most important historical figures in history, and even an atheist must concede that point. You may disagree with his “message” or the “religion” surrounding Jesus, but you cannot deny his impact on the history of the world.

  • sick of it

    Why cant people just leave things alone. This picture has been there for years now some ass has a problem with It. The schools not wasting tax payers money they didnt start the fight. I think they should keep the photo up.
    This country allows for all to voice there opinion but when it comes to Christians or Christian celebrating Christmas , some one is always trying to change what has worked for years. God bless USA.

    • freemage

      Because it hasn’t worked for everyone. It certainly doesn’t work for whoever brought the lawsuit in the first place. What you mean is, “It worked for me and my sect, so the rest of you should just piss off.” “Tradition” is a lousy reason for violating the law and the civil rights of your fellow citizens.

  • Garry Graham

    What strikes me as ironic is that it is not a picture of jesus, it’s from the imagination of some artist 70 years ago who thought that it would be a lot easier to sell his picture if jesus was a nice looking WASP guy, not a short swarthy arab-looking fellow.. And islam is the crazy religion…