The Giant Portrait of Jesus is Finally Coming Down

It looks like the giant portrait of Jesus that was hanging at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio is finally coming down for good:

Last we heard, it was being moved to a local high school while the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit was going through the court.

“It doesn’t matter which public building the portrait is in,” said Nick Worner, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Ohio. “It’s an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of a public school.”

Last night, though, FFRF issued a quick update without much detail:

FLASH NOTICE . . . it looks like the Jesus painting in the Ohio high school is coming down! (See previous post) We can’t say too much about it yet, except that the school board has said that they agree to a settlement that involves removing the painting this week. If/when that happens, we will drop our request for a Temporary Restraining Order. This is a good sign that the picture will never go back up.

Now we have a little more information as to why the school stopped fighting:

The district voluntarily ordered the removal of the portrait out of fear that it could be saddled with paying significant legal fees and costs if it lost the lawsuit brought by two parents and a student.

“Our insurance company denied coverage, and we cannot risk taxpayer money at this time,” Superintendent Phil Howard wrote in a statement last night.

“We are ordering the Hi-Y Club (owner of the painting) to take down the portrait to avoid the court ordering us to do so,” Howard wrote. “We understand that may lead to a lawsuit from the Hi-Y Club, but we had little choice in the matter.”

Smart move since they would have lost the lawsuit. It’s a lesson we’ve learned from Jessica Ahlquist: Just because a religious icon has been up in the school for several decades doesn’t mean it should stay there. Tradition isn’t justification for establishment of religion.

This move is something that should have happened many years ago, but at least the school board finally did the right thing and admit defeat. They must have listened to what I imagine was the advice of their lawyers: You’re going to lose this case so stop making fools of yourselves and think of the children.

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    We will now hear Christians screeching about how this is persecuting them for their faith.

    • newavocation

      Yes and all those taxpaying churches getting their rights trampled. Oh wait!

    • C Peterson

      The Bible is full of passages about the power of God or Jesus to soften the hearts of evil men, but the Bible never envisioned the cold, hard hearts of insurance companies. Even omnipotence isn’t enough to deal with those!

      • Claude

        AFAIK your best post ever.

        • kevin white

          It is. I’ve had to deal with those evil insurance companies, and my Niece actually works for one now..

      • Randomfactor

        “You’re in Good Hands with Iron Chariots Insurance.”

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

          “Here are Iron Chariot Insurance, we’ve got you covered. From slaves to camels to tents to stone temples, have no fear, your property is safe with us. Our gods are stronger. Stormbringers, Earthshakers, Those Who Bring Forth the Waters- bah! From witches’ curses to priests magic tricks, we’ve got the sacred chops to protect you and yours. Now, and for all time.*”

          *Premiums to be paid in precious metals or gemstones only. shekels, minas, drachmas not accepted at this time. Limited time offer in Canaan.

    • observer

      Today, the portrait will probably be put up in a church or someone’s home – tomorrow, Christians will be jailed, and possibly executed.

      • Randomfactor

        Happens every day–well, the jailing part. Jails are full of Christians, including Death Row.

        Not a lot of atheists, though.

  • C Peterson

    This suggests a great strategy for secularists going after these sorts of Constitutional violations: make it clear to the insurers of the violators how expensive fighting could be. I suspect many governmental organizations self-insure, but for those who don’t… nothing like having your insurer decline coverage to send a wake-up call. It gives the decision makers an out with their nutty constituents, as well- “I’d have liked to keep praying to Jeebus, but we’d lose our insurance. It was out of my hands.”

    • Levon Mkrtchyan

      Yeah, everybody can empathize with the old “our policy doesn’t cover that” or “our claim was denied”

    • TheG

      Unfortunately, what this actually shows is that religionists value money more than faith. I guess a check the size of a neurosurgeon’s salary both literally and figuratively trumps faith the size of a mustard seed.

      • C Peterson

        Why is this unfortunate? Money does have more value than faith, so it’s good to see this acknowledged.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      I guess the only problem I see with this is that these people are doing the right thing (taking down religious icons) for the wrong reason (money, instead of… because it’s unconstitutional). But then again, that’s pretty much what every courthouse, school, and other government building has been doing lately.

  • Christopher Borum

    I like the veiled implication from Howard that they now might have to defend against a lawsuit from the Hi-Y Club, but that they had little choice in the matter. I suppose that when the Club sues and demands that the picture go back up, the insurers will refuse coverage for that as well, and then Howard will have no choice but to comply and put it back up? Or will the insurers correctly tell Howard that the Club has no case and he can safely ignore their demands?

    • coyotenose

      Did you see the last couple of updates on this topic? I feel it’s obvious that the “Hi-Y Club might sure us” thing was a dodge to pretend that they weren’t responsible for moving the portrait last time. They’re trying to imply that both sides can make a case. It’s baffling that they think people fall for this.

      • Randomfactor

        Besides, on what grounds could the club sue, to force the school to violate the First Amendment? Because I’d like to use those grounds and have my local schools display this FSM painting I’ve been working on…

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          Hi-Y might try claiming that a limited public forum exists; if they could show that in court, it would give the lawsuit solid ground. (Government generally may not censor material from such fora merely because of particular content being religious.) However, I suspect they’d have an easier time convincing the judge that the principal is an aardvark.

        • baal

          I can’t figure out a legal basis for the Hi-Y Club to sue under. What remedy could they ask from the court? Jail the objecting atheists? Put the picture back up to restart the law suit to put it back down? Money damages (what losses do they have from the image going down)? Free speech doesn’t normally include a right to hang up stuff in schools even if you’re a club. Unless they get Roy Moore, I just don’t see how they even file the action.

        • anniewhoo

          I wonder that too. If the painting was a gift then the recipient of the gift (the school) is welcome to do anything they want with it. If it was simply loaning the painting to the school for a display, then the school can give it back to them.

  • Alawon.B

    “Our insurance company denied coverage, and we cannot risk taxpayer
    money at this time,” Superintendent Phil Howard wrote in a statement
    last night. “..at this time.” Listen, it’s never a good time to waste public school money on these things. Instead, invest in up-to-date books, state-of-the-art Science equipment, teacher training, etc. Not on a losing battle. Hope the taxpayers of that district keep an eye on this…

    • Crazy Russian

      I’m sure they do, and most of them are likely stomping their feet and oiling their shotguns. Because, you know, libruls.

  • jdm8

    I’m surprised they had the foresight to check if they were covered for this.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I’m surprised. It’s like they have have capacity to learn. I must see more of this amazing phenomena.

    • TheG

      it has nothing to do with learning. At least, not to do with learning the right thing. They aren’t doing it because it is the right thing to do or to protect all the children or even because they know they will lose the lawsuit. They don’t mind losing, just so long as it isn’t THEIR money that is being played with.

  • http://twitter.com/iancburch Ian Burch

    My anti-theist sensibilities aren’t well developed, but can we please talk about the affront to TASTE for a moment?

    • Randomfactor

      De gustibus…

      • http://twitter.com/iancburch Ian Burch

        :-)

  • Rain

    Wow that picture sure gets around a lot. It’s like the “Where’s Waldo” of public buildings. It’s like playing “Whac-A-Mole” with a 1st century hippie.

    • Claude

      Ha!

      There are over 500 million reproductions in circulation of Warner Sallman’s 1940 painting of WASP Jesus.

  • bethelj

    Jackson, OH churches should print up pictures with this picture and “Forced from our school” and pass them out for the students to wear to school. Every Friday.

    • Pureone

      Oh, because your tri-modal God is neither omnipresent nor omnipotent and is unable to just whoosh down to re-hang the graven image people aren’t supposed to make in the first place? That’s what your shirt says to me.

    • Randomfactor

      And that would be legal. So what?

      • Randomfactor

        Unless “message” shirts are banned by the dress code. If, not, a “There is no god” teeshirt would also be legal.

      • bethelj

        To show Christians will not be made unwelcome in public space and will not be pushed around in their own town by outsider lawyers with agendas.

        • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

          Sorry, defying unconstitutional Christian hegemony is not making them “unwelcome”, it’s making them “equal”.

          • bethelj

            The Constitution is not a holy document, and “defying” it is only a matter of being opposed to the way the document is being interpreted *currently* by activist judges and lawyers. Previous Americans were fine with Christianity left in the schools; happy with it, even. Why were there no lawsuits of this sort brought in 1850? 1900? 1920?

            • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

              Why were there no lawsuits of this sort brought in 1850? 1900? 1920?

              I don’t know (nor do I know that there were NOT such lawsuits; do you know about the bible riots?).

              But your objection is irrelevant to the legal questions. I know it must pain you for the courts to insist that Christians be treated exactly the same as the hoi polloi, but that’s a cross you’ll have to bear. I have no sympathy for totalitarian theocrats like yourself.

            • coyotenose

              “The Constitution is not a holy document, and “defying” it is only a
              matter of being opposed to the way the document is being interpreted
              *currently* by activist judges and lawyers. Previous Americans were fine with blacks being kept as slaves; happy with it, even. Why were there no lawsuits over it brought in 1780? 1800? 1820?

              Does that help any?

              The interpretation of the Establishment Clause is quite old, and well-grounded in law and in documents written by those responsible for it and describing its intent. Your ignorance of the history of the clause is not an argument. The <implementation of the clause has been extremely weak in some areas. I bet you’ve complained about, oh, let’s say immigration law not being enforced properly. Anything connecting there?

              It’s funny how you folks try to turn the word “activist” into a pejorative. You mean activists like Helen Keller?

              How about Harriet Tubman?

              Abraham Lincoln?

              Mahatma Gandhi?

              Thomas Jefferson?

              George Washington?

              Martin Luther?

              Jesus of Nazareth?

              Yeah, activists are so nasty.

            • http://www.facebook.com/melody.fohr Melody Fohr

              Because in those times, the vast majority of Americans were of white, European decent with very similar Judeo-Christian backgrounds. The US is no longer that homogenous. As the diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds in this country increase, singular viewpoints about the way things used to be will decrease. As education and information become more and more easily accessible to everyone, more and more of those everyones will stand up to be counted, to have their voices heard, and to demand that the laws of the United States be applied equally to all regardless of the majority religion.

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          You poor Christians, having to follow the same Constitution and operate under the same higher court legal precedent that the rest of us heathens have to do…

        • Edmond

          “Christians” are perfectly welcome in all public spaces in this country. But maybe you think that they should be making NON-Christians unwelcome. Leave the religious iconography OFF of government buildings, and EVERYONE will feel more welcome.

          • bethelj

            Take a poll in Jackson, OH today, and we’ll see how welcome people feel in their own school and town. The picture was about identity, not proselytizing. It was a link to the school’s historical identity. My idea with the t-shirts was to reassert that identity in a completely legal way and to show the FFRF they can force the picture out but they cannot force Christian majority identity out of the schools. Micromanaging busybodies.

            • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

              Take a poll in Jackson, OH today, and we’ll see how welcome people feel in their own school and town.

              Make sure you poll atheists, and remember first amendment rights are not subject to majority vote.

            • coyotenose

              You are aware that the FFRF became involved because people in Jackson, OH, were made to feel unwelcome by unlawful activities in their own school and town, right?

              No? You’re ignorant of that? It’s all about poor you?

              My idea with the t-shirts was to reassert that identity in a completely legal way

              Thank you for admitting that you know the portrait was illegal. Now what was your complaint again in that context? That people weren’t getting away with breaking the law simply because someone made it public that they were acting illegally?

              Nobody cares if students wear Jesus shirts. Not the FFRF, not the ACLU, nobody. If someone tried to stop them, any secular group would support their right to do so, and some would provide legal assistance to help them wear those shirts. You may want to actually read crack a book about the history of these things. Or heck, crack open a website. Look, there’s a Search window right up there!

            • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

              you may want to remember when xtians were a tiny, unpopular minority religion. remember that? it’s all over the place in your holy books and writings. lions, martyrs, that sort of thing. operating under a cruel majority that suppressed you, forced you to worship their gods, ignored your legal challenges for decades, mocked you. but one day, after hundreds of years of struggle, you became the dominant faith.

              it’s the same thing today. only: xtians are the corrupt, cruel romans, and those fighting for truth, compassion and fairness for all are the minority, including, irony of ironies, atheists and nonbelievers. it’s taken decades, hundreds of years even, but we’ve finally established that legally you can’t burn us at the stake anymore. in time, we’ll finally reach true legal equality, and proper balance of all beliefs and nonbeliefs in the public sphere. who knows, we may even end up running the government someday.

              how you must hate that.

            • David S.

              I’ve seen a link to a right-wing Christian who proudly stood for prayers at a public high-school football game in Hawai’i … only to find out that the prayers were invariably Buddhist or Shinto. About identity, not proselytizing, you know. It’s amazing how quick something like that can change your perspective.

            • Claude

              What is the school’s historical identity?

        • NewDawn2006

          The Christian kids are free to wear whatever they want. As are the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheist students. This has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with the First Amendment and a school not adopting a religion.

          • bethelj

            This has very little to do with the First Amendment and very much to do with tribalism and power jockeying. I’ve been reading articles and comments here since last summer, and it’s clear that the vast majority of you have very little love for people like me – religious Christians. Chicago dyke below compares Christians to the Romans below, Romans in their worst form, in full on fantasy language. What makes her so sure that, given power, atheists and anti-theists would be any better than Romans or Christians or any majority group? How many comments here fantasize about what they’d do to Christians come the Revolution? A lot. Yeah, there’s talk about equality and fairness and treating even Christians according to the law. Whatevs. I don’t believe it. Human history refutes it. There is no “right side of history.” It’s a circle; people don’t learn. New tribes come into power, kill of their enemies, build monuments to themselves, rewrite the past, glory in their victories, and then slowly get soft, decadent, and corrupt.

            I don’t care about equality. I don’t even believe in equality. That’s a fantasy right there. Everything in nature points to the fact that we are born with unequal abilities and we survive as we can using what we’ve got and helping our families/groups/tribes along. I’m interested in seeing my tribe survive. I’m not interested in hurting other tribes; I don’t wish to cause anyone pain. But those who wish to cause me and mine pain I’d prefer to see given as little power as possible. I love the culture I was born into. I hate the culture we are devolving into.

            This is my last post. You may not believe it, but I’ve learned a lot here about how we are all the same underneath, tribesmen. But we are not in the same tribe and we do not have the same goals, so I’m not going to spend any more time with you. I’ll spend my time letting my people know how many of your people want to see them brought low and how fun you all find it mocking us with your broad-minded tolerance.

            • Claude

              You’re conflating legal equality with other notions of equality. Still, it’s sad that you’ve developed such a poor opinion of atheists. Keep in mind, they’re a diverse lot.

            • NewDawn2006

              You’re right. We don’t have love for people like you. I am not referring to Christians in general. I am referring to people like you. People who think that their invisible sky daddy has given them some moral superiority to the rest of us. Someone who attempts to use the government to further their religious agenda all while spouting that we would just do the same thing if we were the majority? We have already shown that we won’t. If you aren’t hurting anyone else you are free to worship as you choose in the privacy of your home or church. You are free to put decals on your car. You are free to wear whatever clothing you want. As everyone is. You are just not free to have the government pander your religion to the masses. That provides equality for all.

              Don’t believe in equality. Then move to a country that doesn’t use it. Like Iran.

    • coyotenose

      So you feel that good retribution for the law NOT being broken by schools is for churches to pressure children to push their politics for them… politics contrary to the very basics of the Constitution that those students learn at school. Indefinitely.

      Oh, and you want them to, by doing so, continually pressure and intimidate the nonreligious students in the schools. Because those are the only people who would get treated to the in-group/out-group minority judgment and intimidation that you’re proposing: CHILDREN.

      Do you actively want to harm kids, or did you just not think this through? I assume it’s the latter.

      • Derrik Pates

        They’re his “sincerely held beliefs”, so those shouldn’t be counted as bullying or intimidation. He’s not BULLYING, he’s INFORMING.

        Seems legit.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      honey, you have churches. put him where he belongs. school is for everybody, not just christians. selfishness is a sin, remember?

    • PietPuk

      Isn’t your god supposed to be everywhere?
      Why would you need a picture on top of that?

  • Geoff Boulton

    Why aren’t they affronted that somebody dared to disobey the ten commandments in creating the image in the first place? Or isn’t Jesus in heaven?

    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

    • observer

      What, you talking about Christian fundamentalists following the rules their god made for them? You’re such a kidder.

    • Darren

      And WASP Jesus at that…

      The FFRF should have offered them the option of putting up Black Jesus instead

      • Geoff Boulton

        It was another of his miracles. Born in the Middle East but came out a white Anglo-Saxon. It’s strange though that they never mention him ‘looking a bit different’ in the bible. I guess people were just being sensitive and didn’t want to appear racist. I mean it’s one thing to massacre people from other tribes, but upset the feelings of a white man? ;-)

  • A3Kr0n

    The threat of losing money is much more persuasive than having conversations. Now let’s work on the threats of impeachment, and imprisonment to drive home the point.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    What I love is that people are now starting to say this portrait is not Jesus because Jesus wouldn’t have been white or that nobody knows what Jesus looks like.

    Picture stays up it is Jesus but if it has to come down it is not.

    • Marco Conti

      Then let’s have them place a caption that says: “Bob Kidd – Hairdresser”

  • observer

    Bet you $10 the portrait somehow makes its way into a courthouse.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EYZCDG3OAPGD3PDG7XD7SM7OAM ElizabethS

    The Hi-Y club should just forgive the school, no?

  • pagansister

    Gee! Guess they forgot to read the fine print on the insurance policy–”This policy does not cover possible controversy about the picture of Jesus hanging on a public school wall”. Sorry.

  • Timmah

    I’m glad they realized they had no leg to stand on and gave up before they blew a bunch of taxpayer money on this.

  • rwlawoffice

    Based upon how it was displayed by itself, I agree that it would most likely not pass constitutional muster. My suggestion to them would have been to place it in a collage of prominent people of history including those of faith such as Mohammed, Buddha etc. For famous atheists throughout history they could include Stalin or Pol Pot.

    • PietPuk

      Sorry, Jesus is a fictional character, so has no please in a list of prominent christian people.But you can have Adolf Hitler, who was a christian.

  • moreimportanthgs2worrybout

    how do we know its Jesus. Did they compare it to a family photo album? Just tell the ACLU it is a piece of fine art. No one knows what Jesus looked like anyway. Let the ACLU do your own Christian advertising by PROVING this is Jesus.

    • TheBlackCat13

      It doesn’t matter whether it is really Jesus, what matters is that it is intended to represent Jesus and is recognized as representing Jesus. It could be a cubist painting of Jesus, it doesn’t matter.

  • moreimportanthgs2worrybout

    yet, in GOD we trust stays on coins in every childs pocket.

    • TheBlackCat13

      Ah yes, brilliant originality at its best. I have only seen that one brought up as a retort a few hundred times so far.

      There have been attempts to get that removed too, in fact there is an attempt going on right now, but unfortunately the current SCOTUS doesn’t seem to think that it is overtly Christian enough to matter (since it could conceivably be any god). I don’t agree with that reasoning, the intent behind it was pretty clear, but I am not SCOTUS.

  • moreimportanthgs2worrybout

    hypocrits.

    • TheBlackCat13

      Thank you for that detailed rebuttal.

      You do know you can edit posts, right?


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