Ohio principal values picture of Jesus over the education of his students.

The principal of a Southern Ohio Middle School is about to lower the quality of education in his school because of his religious convictions.

The local school district’s superintendent of schools says he won’t remove the picture with an order from the school board or a judge. He says the display comes from a student’s initiative, which makes its permissible for display. The portrait hangs in the school’s “Hall of Honor,” among other faces.

Look no further than Ahlquist v. Cranston for how a court is likely to deal with the “students took the initiative” defense.  It doesn’t matter if the students took the initiative to put a “whites only” sign over the water fountain, it’s illegal in a government building.  The picture of Jesus can go in the churches, in their homes, but not in a government building because it shows preference to a single religion.  It also creates a sense of inequality among the students.

And the principal saying the picture will stay regardless of who orders it removed isn’t a stand on principal – it’s a refusal to admit that his religion must submit to the law, and a lack of care for how many dollars earmarked for education his actions will cost.  And somebody who places his own religious beliefs over the quality of education for the students in his charge is unqualified for the job.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Art Vandelay

    They’re probably too dumb for this, but if I was the school district, I would just say it’s a picture. Nobody can prove that it’s Jesus or has any idea what Jesus looked like or if he even existed. Plus, 2000 year old Palestinian Jews were probably a lot darker than whatever this picture displays. Unless there’s some sort of religious symbol or words on it, I don’t think this really that clear cut.

    • M

      I’d say that means it’s time to put up other pictures! Kali, Ba’al, Arabic calligraphy formed into shapes (since pictures of Muhammed are blasphemous to Muslims), the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Satan, Zeus, Athena, and a few others. Maybe a nice fertility goddess. It’d require students to take the initiative and make those pictures, though, so it’s not the best solution.

      • Baal

        You rang?
        Worst part about my nym is that it makes me summonable. Not to that school hall, however. The power of the lord would abjure me (or something).

  • sqlrob

    Nobody can prove that it’s Jesus or has any idea what Jesus looked like or if he even existed.

    Too late if they’ve already admitted it.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com TerranRich

    It is commonly recognized as Jesus Christ. It is intended to show Jesus Christ, not only by the artist but by the principal as well. The intent is clear, Art.

    • Art Vandelay

      Oh, I’m well aware of the intent. I’m just saying if I was the lawyer that had to defend these jerks, that’s probably where I’d go with it. Although, I guess this would be the same as arguing that a crucifix is just a lowercase letter “t.”

      • andre the chemist

        A cross is a lowercase letter “t”. A crucifix is a lowercase letter “t” with a little, mostly-naked, bloody man on it.

      • eric

        Then you would probably lose. The court regularly looks at intent as it is represented by public communications. All those statements from the the administration saying he won’t take down the Jesus picture. All the students calling it a Jesus picture in interviews, blogs, and facebook pages. All the op-eds in local papers calling it a Jesus picture. This is all evidence the court would consider (assuming the other side’s lawyer is competent).

  • FeminAtheist

    In the tech area of the drama department seniors would be permitted to paint one concrete block for each show they performed in/teched for and then sign it along with your graduating year. One gal that was older than I was painted the block above the backstage door and fixed a jesus photo card thingy in the middle. Even have considered myself to be xtian at the time I thought it was offensive. I have never had any tolerance for using the school to try to thrust religious beliefs at a student body that is made up of many different types of backgrounds. So, being the head drama bitch (student & tech director) I ripped down the photo of jesus and left the remaining painted block untouched. When confronted I told her that jesus didn’t belong there, but she was welcome to put her name on her block. She must have known she was wrong because other than dirty looks, she never once tried to fight me on the matter.

  • eric

    Nice bombast. I’m betting it won’t last. The board or whomever is higher up well tell the guy to take it down or lose his job, and he’ll take it down.
    There is a small possibility it was never supposed to be anything but bombast, that this is basically a publicity stunt by someone who wants to run for a local office later. He may just want to get known by voters as the ‘Jesus superintendant.’

  • MikeMa

    Sure would be nice if moves this stupid were counted against the individual rather than the institution.

  • ewok_wrangler

    Gotta love the english language, part 275: “And the principal saying the picture will stay regardless of who orders it removed isn’t a stand on principal…” should be “And the principal (main, central guy) saying the picture will stay regardless of who orders it removed isn’t a stand on principle (fundamental doctrine)…” but kudos for getting the first usage right; thousands wouldn’t’a.

  • John Horstman

    And the principal saying the picture will stay regardless of who orders it removed isn’t a stand on principal

    This should probably either be “…stand on principle” or “…removed is a stand on principal” as it’s a stand based on nothing more than the guy’s position as principal. :-P

    • Randomfactor

      And the people standing on him.

  • Ma Nonny

    My high school principal did the same thing back in the late 90s (in a state that borders Ohio). There was (and probably still is) a very prominent Jesus picture outside of the principal’s office. There was an outcry (by a group including but not limited to a few Jewish families), the principal resisted, he eventually took it down for 1-2 yrs, and put it back up. His reason? It was put there by someone else (I think it was a “gift”), so it wasn’t his to take down. Yes, really. If only all the secular groups with legal umph and public prominence now were around then…

  • Pingback: School already lost money in a settlement over Jesus picture.


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