Over the past couple of months, I’ve posted about a controversy at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio. They had a portrait hanging in their school, not of a student or administrator, but of Jesus:
Not only that — it had a prominent place in the school:
Last month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and ACLU of Ohio filed a federal lawsuit against the school for its unlawful promotion of religion on behalf of anonymous families who have children in the district.
The school is holding the line that they aren’t promoting religion. Instead, the portrait was put up by a student group so to take it down would be a violation of their rights.
But, just to be safe, the school is taking a precaution.
The Columbus Dispatch‘s Lisa Cornwell reports that the portrait has now been moved to the local high school at the student group’s behest:
Phil Howard, superintendent of the Jackson City Schools, said [Friday] that the portrait was moved this week at the request of the Hi-Y club, which put it up in 1947 in a building that is now the middle school.
“We have to respect the rights of the club,” Howard said. “Failure to do so might open the district to even another lawsuit — this time by the [Hi-Y] club” — or violate the U.S Constitution by “turning the portrait into government speech.”
Officials have maintained that taking the portrait down would censor students’ private speech.
“It belongs to the club,” Howard said. “It’s student speech, not government speech.”
Really? That’s the argument? So if the Science Club (which doesn’t exist at their school) wanted to put up a giant poster of Charles Darwin, there would be no pushback? What if the Young Democrats (another group that doesn’t exist at the school) wanted to hang up a picture of President Obama? What if the Muslim Student Association wanted to put up a picture of Muhammad? Ok, on second thought, scratch that last one…
Anyway, would the school have given those portraits the same prominent placement they gave Jesus?
I doubt it.
Presumably, the portrait’s move to the high school would help the district make the case that this is all about the students’ wishes but, even if every student in that school was a Christian (which they aren’t), public schools can’t push Jesus down everyone’s throat like this. It’s the same reason the school can’t allow a student to get on the intercom system and start reciting Bible verses, even if it’s the student’s idea and not the school’s. It’s government promotion of religion, plain and simple, even if some students ask for it.
The ACLU is thinking along those same lines:
Nick Worner, a spokesman for the ACLU of Ohio, said yesterday that he couldn’t comment on legal strategy, but he stressed that his group’s position hasn’t changed.
“It doesn’t matter which public building the portrait is in,” Worner said. “It’s an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of a public school.”
No word yet on when a ruling is going to be made in the case.
(via Religion Clause)