Middle school principal loses his moxy when the bill for breaking the law comes in.

Remember when the principal of Southern Ohio Middle School said of a portrait of Jesus he had hanging in the school:

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.

Well, it turns out that a judge did order it to be removed and the principal stood by his word…until it was made clear that even for Christians there are penalties for breaking the law:

An Ohio middle school was forced to remove its portrait of Jesus and pay nearly $100,000 after reaching a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, who called the display unconstitutional.

“The law is pretty clear,” said James Hardiman, legal director for ACLU of Ohio. “The display of this particular kind of religious artifact [in a public school] is unconstitutional.”

Though both parties came to an agreement months ago, the school continued to display the portrait during a prayer meeting and made it visible to those entering an art-storage area. Superintendent Phil Howard said the portrait had historical significance and was not hurting anyone.

Howard also reportedly said he would not take down the portrait just because “some group from Madison, Wis., who knows nothing about the culture of [the] community” wanted him to remove it.

They may not know much about the culture of the community…but they sure know a lot about the law.

Did I say there were penalties for Christian law-breakers?  Oh, I meant there were penalties from the children whose future he’s supposed to be looking out for.

This settlement requires the district to pay both the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation nearly $100,000 for damages and legal fees.

Howard said the school finally agreed to remove the portrait because the fees were mounting, calling it the “best case scenario”.

The district will use its insurance to cover the $95,000 in fees instead of using taxpayer money, according to Howard.

Glad it’s not being paid with money earmarked for education, but their insurance premiums will go up and that will hurt the students.  All because a Christian felt it was his right to turn his nose up to the law.

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.

  • islandbrewer

    “some group from Madison, Wis., who knows nothing about the culture of [the] community” wanted him to remove it

    Because no one from Madison could ever know anything about the culture of a Jesus-soaked small midwestern town. That’s be totally alien to them.

    • http://bearlyatheist.wordpress.com/ Bear Millotts

      Heck, Madison even sounds like a Ferrin name, not a ‘Murican one.

      • Matthew_Bailey

        That’ll teach James Madison!

    • OrionRed

      I grew up in southern Ohio, in a town that sounds a lot like this one. When i saw this lady screaming for God on an airplane, my first thought was that it was just like being back there:


  • Art_Vandelay

    You can buy insurance to cover any legal fees that come as a result of you breaking the law?

    • Loqi

      Has anyone informed the Catholic Church of this?

      • Artor

        The Catholic Church has it’s own insurance because nobody else will touch them.

        • Gehennah

          So sad, the Catholic Church wants to touch them, but the insurance companies won’t touch back.

        • Bren

          The catholic church has got into enough trouble caused by improper touching.

        • Jim Evans

          The Catholic Church does not receive public funding.

          • Artor

            Off topic much?

          • Jim Evans

            I thought the point was ‘has anyone told the Catholic Church about not being able to have a picture of Jesus’. That was the topic of the article. My point was, since they are not publically funded, that law doesn’t apply to them. So, I would say that was 100% ON TOPIC.

          • Artor

            No, this took place in a public school, not church property. If this was in a Xian private school, then there would be no case. I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it isn’t anything relevant to this article.

          • Jim Evans

            I am replying to this comment:

            Loqi Art_Vandelay

            • 10 days ago • 1 0
            Has anyone informed the Catholic Church of this?
            Please find someone else to argue with– this is tedious, and I no longer have time for you.

          • Barry

            Then you obviously do not understand context, as Loqi was replying to Art_Vandelay who said
            “You can buy insurance to cover any legal fees that come as a result of you breaking the law?”
            Loqi then replied “Has anyone informed the Catholic Church of this?”

            In reference to how many legal troubles the church gets into.

            Or, another way to say it is “Has anyone told the Catholic church that you can get insurance to cover any legal fees that come as a result of you breaking the law?”

          • Jim Evans

            Dude just stfu. You have internetitis– the uncontrollable urge to comment or argue with people about a point, whether valid or not, whether important or not, and especially whether or not the other person cares. I don’t care. I just don’t know how to turn off the option, where people’s replies keep popping up in my email. If I made a mistake about context, who cares? Get a life. Turn off your computer, breathe deeply, and get over it.

          • Barry

            Says the one doing the exact same thing, lol.

          • Artor

            “You have internetitis– the uncontrollable urge to comment or argue with people about a point, whether valid or not, whether important or not, and especially whether or not the other person cares.”

            Sez the guy who is beating a 10-day old thread with random ignorant comments. If you don’t even know how to manage your e-mail notifications, maybe you should be the one to take a break from the internet.

          • Artor

            Yeah, you still miss. That comment was clearly referring to the church’s liability, not whether they receive federal money or not. And talk about tedious, you’re the one tossing off badly made and misplaced arguments in a 10-day old thread. But don’t worry, I’ll cut you some slack for being slow.

          • Rob Yates

            Ever hear of vouchers?

          • Jim Evans

            yes, wasn’t that a republican plan to decimate our public school system, so that they could continue to misinform people on a variety of subjects, and subsequently increase the fear-mongering and votes they would get? Yes, I’ve heard of it. Still not the same. Neither is personal tuition.

          • Half-Baked-Gogglebox-Do-Gooder

            Bullshit, sir.

          • BuddyEdgewood

            Actually, the Catholic Church does receive public funding. Perform a Google search on “catholic church receives public funding” and you’ll see many examples. The idea of separation of church and state died with Thomas Jefferson.

    • Charles Raymond Miller

      No. At least not if it is an act of your own volition. Exceptions are limited to things like motor vehicle accidents or “errors and omissions”

  • baal

    Insurance doesn’t cover willful bad acts. It’s against public policy. I suspect the ACLU and FFRF aren’t pushing that since the school district funds would be used to pay instead of insurance money (and not the principals $$). The school board should fire that principal, however, for putting the education dollars in jeopardy. Note that I didn’t hold this position until it became clear that the principal has turned this jesus image into a fetish (sociological term) and is willfully violating judicial orders (and thus risking the insurance payments).

  • EvidenceBasedDecisions

    A slight “insurance” digression.

    It always makes me laugh that the NRA endorsed insurer imposes a premium for events where guns are allowed !

    Strange that they should charge more when “safety” equipment IS present. And it seems that the greater the different types of safety equipement available, the higher the insurance rates.

    I mean, if everyone has an AK47 and a rifle with telescopic sights that should make the event so safe that insurance should be free. I wonder why the NRA doesnt complain.

    Could there be something about this “safety equipment” that insurance companies and the NRA know ?

    • Jason Neal

      Insurance companies will hike up the rates for whatever reason they can dream up. Gun owners will tell you the opposite of what you are claiming. You can never be completely safe. That’s one reason to own weapons. How much do you think the insurance would cost if it were against violent crime and not accidents, as most insurance is.

  • Domush

    “The district will use its insurance to cover the $95,000 in fees instead of using taxpayer money, according to Howard.”

    Yeah, because the insurance is donated to the town and not funded by taxpayers at all..

    Now the taxpayers can pay even more for insurance once it goes up as a result of a high dollar payout related to willful violation of the law, even after being warned prior to the lawsuit.

  • Sanduril

    “their insurance premiums will go up and that will hurt the students. All because a Christian felt it was his right to turn his nose up to the law.”

    No. It’s because the ACLU thought that taking a picture down was worth the trouble it would cause to the students. This article is so horribly biased it’s painful. I’m an atheist, and I oppose religion just as much as the next guy, but this is just as bad as anything fox news shits out.

    • Kayleigh Dyess

      I know this is going to be unpopular but I am thinking more along the same lines as you, Sanduril. I’m an atheist and I actually was appalled to see the amount they were being fined… for a picture. Obviously the principal is clearly in the wrong- egotistical, self-absorbed, and has a “martyr syndrome”. But holy crap (pun intended) I do not personally feel a picture is worth all of this hooplah. I don’t feel bad for the principal but it does send a tiny shockwave of fear down my spine that the children in their educational system *could* have been punished (had the school not been adequately covered by insurance). I don’t know what to think except that both parties are wrong in this imo.

      • Jonathan Merritt

        Although it’s not mentioned here, $80k went to attorney’s fees and $15k was split between two students who brought the suit: http://legalclips.nsba.org/2013/10/17/ohio-district-pays-95000-to-settle-suit-over-display-of-jesus-portrait-in-schools/

        How else would you suggest fighting this sort of behaviour? The Superintendent, Phil Howard, refused a written request to remove the picture, as REQUIRED BY LAW, stating that it would require a court order. So, ultimately, the case was heard and a court order he received. The superintendent was the only party at fault, and ENTIRELY responsible for the costs incurred, which would have been avoided had he simply complied with the first requests.

        • Kayleigh Dyess

          Well considering I did not know any of the above information, I could not have given a suggestion- as stated above quote “I don’t know what to think.”

          But I do appreciate the additional information as it does not make the situation sound as reckless and overbearing as this particular article does.

          • Artor

            Maybe you should read the article before commenting.

      • John Smith

        It IS unfortunate the school had to pay so much, but as others have said… they were given plenty of warning. They knew they were breaking the law, but their loyalty to their religion superseded their loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. Even if they thought they were in the right, a quick Google search would have shown that the law has not been on their side in issues such as this.

      • VenusV

        Agree. Why could it not be set up as an either/or proposition…Either you take it down, or we’re going to fine you $100K?

        • Artor

          They were warned that they were breaking the law. The ignored it. They were taken to court & promised they would take the pic down. They lied. They were taken to court again, and lost. They weren’t fined $100K, they had to pay court costs. They could have easily avoided this by simply following the law in the first place. Cry me a fucking river for the poor, persecuted Xians who can’t be bothered to obey the same laws everyone else has to, and whine when they have to pay the piper.

      • Half-Baked-Gogglebox-Do-Gooder

        They’re not being fined for the PICTURE…They’re being fined for BREAKING THE LAW. It doesn’t matter if it was a picture of Jeebus, Vishnu or Richard Petty (Who is, let’s face it, a god to some people), or a 600-ft flaming crucifix – They were warned, BY A JUDGE, to knock it off. And they did it anyway.

        Fines like that are intended to serve as a reminder to other dipshits who feel that their personal religious beliefs trump any “puny man-made” laws that they are still actually LIVING in a world of man-made laws, instead of the delusional Sunday school dimension that they THINK they – and everybody else – are living in.

  • Colin Jackson

    The superintendent should be held personally liable for the fine. How can he break the law “on the schools behalf”?

    • DanDare2050

      That’s a good question. Although the school may be responsible for the bad acts of its employees executed as part of their role perhaps?

  • sean williams

    Could someone tell me what is constitutional?

    If it is not liked, it seems to be labeled as the enemy of freedom. It was a religious artifact, not a criminal, seemingly nothing more than a picture. So how is it an enemy of the state?

    • Half-Baked-Gogglebox-Do-Gooder

      You’re not fooling anybody with that phony “sean williams” name, Mr. Hannity. Get a job, loser.

      • sean williams

        Who the hell is Hannity? Are you quite mad? hahahahahahahaha!!!! Seriously , my word.

        • Half-Baked-Gogglebox-Do-Gooder

          Wow. Stupid, disingenuous AND uninformed ! You hit the trifecta, pall.

    • islandbrewer

      How about we tell you what’s not constitutional: using government (taxpayer) money for religious purposes (like a picture of Jeebus).

      If it is not liked, it seems to be labeled as the enemy of freedom.

      Strawman. No one has said anything like that. It has nothing to do with being liked or not liked, it has to do with being a religious expression paid for by taxpayer funds. It’s not a fucking “enemy of the state” Mr. Fucker McFuckingsworth (that’s another strawman), nor an artifact, it’s just a stupid cheap picture of a white Eurojesus that happens to be unconstitutional when paid for or displayed by the government.

      What part of that is so fucking unfathomable?

  • sean williams

    How does a religious artifact cost 100k? Are you all mad?? What the hell happened to religious freedom and expression, the right to be who and what you wish to be? ……………………………..The Land Of The Free? Really!

    • Roman Groblicki

      yes I want to put up a picture of Allah next to that of Jesus, but would you let me?

      • sean williams

        Yes, I would!

    • islandbrewer

      A 2-3 attorneys and a paralegal, with 100-150 billable hours for each of them, plus whatever filing fees and incidental costs? 100K sounds like they’re getting off easy.

    • islandbrewer

      What the hell happened to religious freedom and expression, the right to be who and what you wish to be?

      Put the picture up on the your garage door, asshole. Paint in on your roof. Put up a fucking billboard with a picture of Jesus on your fucking front lawn, Dingleberries. Tattoo is on your fucking face, I’m sure it’d be an improvement. Religiously express the fuck out of your fucking idiotic fucking self all the fuck you fucking want, fucker.

      You just don’t get to use one dime of my taxes to do it. Understand?

    • Fullerene

      Read the comments above. The fine was not for the Jesus picture, or its monetary value. The fine was for willfully disregarding the judge’s order after the school’s principal was found to be in the wrong, under the Constitution. It wasn’t some arbitrary decision — it was a reflection of case law and, frankly, common sense.

      It’s quite simple. According to the First Amendment, the government has no right to promulgate a religion. You have the freedom to do what you like in that regard, but the government does not. Imagine if the government could do that? You would not like it, I assure you, when they shoved a flavor of religion different from your own down your throat — as the principal was doing to some of the students, including the two plaintiffs.

      Understand this: a religious dictatorship is not what freedom is about. It’s better to have the government out of the religion business. Historically, each time they’ve become entangled, the result has been disastrous.

      • Artor

        It wasn’t even a fine. Most of that money goes to pay court costs that could have easily been avoided by following the law in the first place.

  • Benjamin

    This is disgusting, federal buildings in DC show biblical images and are not removed so why should a school remove a picture? It’s not like the school was forcing religion onto the kids. Government and Madison need to be more open minded and deal with things that actually matter in life and not focus on the little stuff so much

    • DavidMHart

      It may not have been ‘forcing’ religion, but it was still a subtle endorsement of one religion over other religions and over non-religion, and the whole point about the 1st Amendment as interpreted by mountains of case law is that the Government must remain absolutely neutral with regard to religion – not just refrain from coercive, theocratic imposition of any one faith or sect or lack thereof, but studiously avoid any act that elevates one religious viewpoint over any other.

      And while this case, by itself, may count as ‘little stuff’, the forces of superstitious authoritarianism will use any small chink in the wall of separation between religion and government as leverage to knock out more of that wall, until eventually they either achieve a theocracy or people finally wake up and stop them – but the best way to stop them is to never allow them that chink in the wall in the first place.

      [Edit - and the fact that federal buildings in DC may also be breaking the law on this issue does not make the school's behaviour okay]

      • Benjamin

        Is not Jesus part of the world’s history along with other religions? Do history classes not teach about the different religious leaders of the world? Would it not be ok to have a picture of other religious figureheads in public schools? I think it would be fine as it would be a representation of the history of our world. The public school system should give students the full view of the world’s history and allow schools to be open to all views and share all views. As long as the school is showing historic people and beliefs and isn’t forcing students to worship these beliefs and religious figures, I don’t believe there should be an issue with this. I think it should be against the law to not allow the pictures of historic religious figures in public schools. History should not be censored to students. They should have all views and pictures should be left alone if they have historical significance.

        • DavidMHart

          Were there in fact pictures of other figures from other religious traditions given equal prominence? Was there, for instance, a picture of Siddartha Gautama, more commonly known as Buddha? Was there a portrait of Krishna? What about Joseph Smith, or Mohammed, founders of two major angelic-revelation-based religious traditions? What about L Ron Hubbard, Mahavira, Zoroaster or Moses? What about famous religious skeptics, like Lucretius or Robert Ingersoll?

          Of course there weren’t. You know full well that this was an attempt to put Christianity and Christianity alone in a position of privilege at the school.

          And even if it weren’t, what an odd thing to do it would be to put prominent portraits up at the school, rather than actually studying their ideas in classes. Schools that teach science don’t teach better science by hanging big paintings of Newton, Darwin, Mendeleev and Einstein up in their halls.

          Sorry, that won’t wash. This was simply not about exposing to students to a wide range of factual information about a wide range of historical and/or mythical personnages; this was about pushing a sectarian position (albeit pushing it more mildly than other schools sometimes do) and you are quite aware of that, because anyone that was stupid enough to not realise that would also be too stupid to operate a keyboard and type in grammatical English. No one has censored history here; to the extent that there is good evidence to suggest that a historical Jesus existed, let the students read it in history class (though bear in mind that there is not a shred of good evidence that anyone every actually did the magical stuff that came to be attributed to Jesus, like using his magic powers to kill a fig tree, and coming back from the dead – those aspects lie firmly in the realm of myth).

  • Jason Neal

    One might argue that the ACLU is taking this money by leveling a retarded law suit for such a ridiculous amount of money against a school because of a stupid picture. As though the legal system weren’t already inundated with frivolous lawsuits.