School leaders refuse to remove picture of Christ

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JACKSON, OHIO — Leaders of a southern Ohio school district say they won't remove a large portrait of Jesus that has been a presence in a middle school building for more than 65 years.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the separation of church and state, received an anonymous complaint, then sent a letter to the district Jan. 2. It said the painting is an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity and should be removed.

The portrait has hung over an entrance at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio since 1947.

A school board meeting on the subject last week drew 300 people. The Dispatch reports only two people at the meeting spoke against keeping the painting, and they were booed by the crowd.

At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Phil Howard said the painting has historical significance and will remain on display. Earlier Howard had defended the painting because it was provided by a student club and is displayed with other pictures in a "hall of honor."

"I'm certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wis., who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down," Howard was quoted as telling radio station WKKJ.

Rebecca Markert, an attorney for Freedom From Religion, insisted the school cannot endorse religion over non-religion. She said displaying the picture "sends an incredibly powerful message of religious endorsement, specifically Christianity, which is an egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution."

She predicted that if the case goes to court, the district would lose. The group is considering legal action if the school doesn't take the picture down voluntarily.

The Huffington Post reports the ACLU stepped into the case last Thursday. It says courts nationwide have ordered schools to remove similar displays.

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