FFRF and ACLU of Ohio Sue School District Over Middle School’s Giant Portrait of Jesus

You may remember Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio and the giant portrait of Jesus hanging on its walls:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation had lodged a complaint with the school — but the school board decided last month to stand firm in their disregard for the Constitution. They voted to let the portrait stay.

Looks like their punishment is underway: The FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio have filed a lawsuit (PDF) against the district on behalf of anonymous plaintiffs:

Dan Barker, FFRF co-president and a former evangelical minister, is very familiar with the painting, having encountered it himself in countless Christian churches. “It boggles the mind that in 2013, a public school superintendent and school board would not understand that a devotional painting of Jesus, called ‘The Head of Christ,’ — identical to millions hanging in churches and Sunday school classrooms around the country — may not be posted at the entrance of a middle school.”

Displaying the portrait violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the 14th Amendment and Article I, Section 7 of the Ohio Constitution, the suit alleges, and the defendants’ actions “have no legitimate secular purpose, and are motivated by a desire to advance a religious purpose.”

Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, is representing the school board and they’re upset the lawsuit was filed so quickly:

“This lawsuit is premature,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Director of Litigation. “We reached out to the ACLU and FFRF for dates they would be available to meet, so that we could include their input in the investigation before we made a final report and recommendation to the Board. Rather than responding to our request to meet with them, the ACLU and FFRF filed a lawsuit before they even knew what action the Board intended to take.”

Makes sense to me — why waste time shaking hands when you’re going to engage in battle, anyway?

I know I’m not a lawyer, but I have no idea how anyone could make a secular argument for keeping that portrait right where it is. The Christians representing the school board will inevitably make the same horrible arguments we hear time and time: Tradition and “But no one else has ever complained about it!”

Neither argument addresses the actual issue. The portrait is illegal whether or not anyone has ever said anything about it — and it needs to be taken down.

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