Suit Filed Over Jesus Picture in School


The ACLU and the FFRF have filed a federal lawsuit in Ohio to get a large picture of Jesus removed from a middle school. This is the case where the clueless superintendent claims that the image is perfectly legal because it’s historical rather than religious.

A portrait of Jesus that hangs prominently in an entranceway at a rural Ohio public school is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and should be removed, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday says.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation say the large portrait at Jackson Middle School unconstitutionally promotes religion. The two groups seek a court order requiring the school to remove the portrait and prohibiting its re-hanging or any substantially similar display in the future.

“The maintenance and display of the portrait has the effect of advancing and endorsing one religion, improperly entangling the State in religious affairs, and violating the personal consciences of plaintiffs,” the lawsuit says.

Attorneys are also asking that the plaintiffs be allowed to maintain their anonymity, which should always be granted in such cases given the long history of violence and intimidation that almost always greets plaintiffs in such cases. And as always, there’s a very simple test of whether the arguments of the other side are to be taken seriously: Would they still think it was merely historical and therefore legal if it was a picture of Muhammad? Not a chance.

You can read the full complaint here and the motion for anonymity here.

Comments

  1. bubba707 says

    I’d bet the picture itself kills the historical argument. Most likely it portrays Jesus as a caucasian with long flowing hair where a historical Jesus would be dark skinned with short curly hair, being a Palestinian Jew and all.

  2. chilidog99 says

    The funny thing about it is that the image is actually a self portrait of the artist who painted it.

    Oh, and also, the school superintendent referred to the painting as a “photo.”

  3. Randomfactor says

    Nice of the school district to dip into their overflowing coffers to support the civil rights lawyers like this. It also drives home the message that times have changed better than simply removing the painting would have.

  4. Sastra says

    “We’re not violating the law and the picture is legal because it has historical significance. It hasn’t hurt anyone.”

    Yeah — and taking it down won’t “hurt anyone” either, will it?

    A portrait of Muhammed might be tricky, since the Muslims seem to have a problem with the idea. But there are plenty of other portraits with “historical significance.” How about Chairman Mao?

    What? That would make it look like the school was honoring and promoting Communism, instead of just exhibiting a picture of a famous person? Imagine that.

  5. peterh says

    In my possibly provincial world, “a portrait of….” is a depiction of a subject who posed for the artist. Nowhere in the various babbles I own is such an event mentioned.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    I especially like that the second plaintiff identifies as Christian, and opposes the painting because that is not consistent with the plaintiff’s view of Jesus. Not that it matters legally, but it takes one “those damned atheists” off of the table. (In the early newspaper stories on this one, one online commenter identified as a Christian who objected to the painting because it violated the commandment forbidding graven images.)

  7. roggg says

    Presenting Jesus as a relevant historical figure presupposes that at least a significant portion of Christianity is true. This is a self defeating argument.

  8. TGAP Dad says

    I think if they’re going to make the “historical” argument, the school should be required to present evidence that there was an actual human being whose life can be shown to be represented in the gospels, and looked at least remotely like the painting.

  9. says

    Presenting Jesus as a relevant historical figure …

    While it not possible to tell for sure, I suspect the superintendent wasn’t arguing that the painting was okay because Jesus was of historical significance (though I’m sure he thinks so) but that the “portrait” was of historical significance , because it has hung there since 1947 and was donated by a student group. SCOTUS has given some slack to religious displays that have been in place for a long time, if there are other factors diluting the religious message. Jessica (“Evil Little Thing”) Ahlquist, however, demonstrated that just because a religious display has been in place for a long time and was donated by students is not, in and of itself, enough to pass constitutional muster.

    This is rather funny though:

    The Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, representing the school district, earlier wrote to the ACLU and Freedom From Religion, saying the institute was investigating the issue. The institute said the portrait has been in place for some 65 years, apparently without anyone complaining about it.

    Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, said Thursday the lawsuit was premature. He said Liberty Institute planned to present its findings and recommendations to the school board at next week’s meeting. He declined to discuss the findings, but said the goal was to make sure the legal rights of all involved were considered.

    Riiiight! The plaintiffs should wait for a conservative Christian advocacy group to complete an “investigation” (oh, look! the picture of Jesus is hung by itself in the central staircase of this public school) instead of trying to end an ongoing violation of the Constitution.

  10. raven says

    A portrait of Muhammed might be tricky, since the Muslims seem to have a problem with the idea.

    Not a problem.

    There are thousands of other gods.

    Jesus pictures are cliches. They’ve been overdone for millennia.

    Now a picture of Cthulhu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster would be more interesting.

    If they wanted to go with modern day prophets, there are many. Elron Hubbard, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Reverend Jim Jones, or David Koresh would work nicely.

  11. raven says

    It’s just the usual.

    1. The jesus picture is just territorial marking by xians. My old male cat does the same thing. On walks outside he pisses on important (to him) trees and shrubs. This tells other cats that this is his territory.

    2. It’s also magical thinking and witchcraft. Supposedly putting a picture of jesus up is supposed to do something. Mostly magically turn all the kids into xians usually.

    I suppose they could try to use it to drive off the vampires but generally a crucifix is used for that.

  12. says

    A painting or picture of Jesus would have a historical context if it was shown in conjunction with other famous religious or philosophical figures.

    On a tangential note, I was recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and checked out the museum’s Islamic art wing. I noted a number of paintings and other works of art that depicted Muslim women without being veiled. That suggests to me that during various periods and regions of the Islamic world in the Middle Ages and Renaissance time period, women were not required to be veiled. Or perhaps it was a matter of women who were members of the ruling classes and/or lived in urban environments did not observe the practice and that it would be more prevalent among the poor and those who lived in rural areas.

  13. says

    The eyes follow you. It’s kind of creepy. If it was me I’d put it up in the men’s changing room, opposite the showers. Then everybody would want it taken down.

  14. eric says

    My prediction: if superinetend Howard is apolitical or merely stupid, he’ll listen to the district lawyers and take it down. But if he’s gunning for some elected position in the next election, it stays up. Fighting this in court is like getting the school district to donate money to your election campaign. Huge amount of name recognition and, frankly, most of the local citizens will probably agree with you.

  15. says

    No surprise, the school board voted to keep Jesus up and will allow other school groups to hang stuff too.

    According to that story, the school board’s “defense” will be:

    [T]he school board said the portrait belongs to the student group that put it up, the Hi-Y club. The portrait’s frame is inscribed with the club’s name and the Christian-based service group is the portrait’s owner, not the school, the board said.

    The board said the portrait is part of a “limited public forum,” and that the Jackson schools will allow other student clubs to hang portraits appropriate to their organizations.

    The bad news for them is that the case abb3w linked to above, Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools had the following facts:

    The portrait, originally donated to the school, is not part of a group of paintings nor is it used in conjunction with any class or educational program. Nearby in the same hallway are trophy cases, a painting of the school mascot and a bulletin board, but as Judge Gibson noted, “these seem to have no relation to the picture and do not add to or detract from the impression it makes.” …

    [T]he defendants also argue weakly that the school hallway is a limited public forum. Judge Gibson properly rejected this argument and treated the case under standard Establishment Clause case law. The hallway is not a limited public forum because the school maintains the right to control what is posted there and does not offer space to other religions and causes.

    Unless the school can show that it has maintained the area as a public forum for the last 65 years, where any student group could hang anything it liked, the courts will likely treat this statement as a ruse formulated only as a litigation strategy, something that courts usually treat as an insult to their intelligence.Similarly, the claim that the school doesn’t own the picture is pretty clearly a ruse, since this is apparently the first mention of ownership and comes only after the suit was initiated. In any case, it is irrelevant unless the area was truly a public forum. Permitting only one group to use the area is an endorsement of that group’s views.

    Furthermore, the school Superintendent, Phil Howard, keeps making stupid remarks like “I’ve been here for six years and nobody ever said anything about it. I think probably the vast majority of the people in the community want it to stay.” That is pretty clearly an assertion that the majority has the right to impose its religious views on everyone else, which is what the 1st Amendment is specifically intended to prevent.

  16. raven says

    No surprise, the school board voted to keep Jesus up and will allow other school groups to hang stuff too.

    1. Good news. I’m sure the portraits of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Cthulhu, and Kali, Vishnu, and Brahma are going up next week.

    2. I don’t actually believe this. Xians, always, always without fail lie.

    They will stall, beat around the bush, veto anything they feel like. Anything that isn’t white middle America will just end up vandalized or stolen and they, of course, will never find out who did it. Or care.

  17. raven says

    [T]he school board said the portrait belongs to the student group that put it up, the Hi-Y club. The portrait’s frame is inscribed with the club’s name and the Christian-based service group is the portrait’s owner, not the school, the board said.

    Cthulhu, how stupid can they be?

    If this club owns the picture, tell them to come and get their Oogedy Boogedy picture!!! This isn’t rocket science.

    The ownership issue is irrelevant and seems post hoc anyway meaning that the xian group probably gave it to the school originally. They simply rewrote history. I’d like to see the paper trail on this claim but there probably isn’t one since it never was a loan.

  18. raven says

    [T]he defendants also argue weakly that the school hallway is a limited public forum.

    Astonishingly clueless, especially after the Newtown school massacre.

    The schools out here are anything but open to the public. In fact, public access is limited and tightly controlled.

    This is part of a security program. They don’t want random crazed shooters just walking in and killing a few dozen kids. This is not a hard concept to understand.

  19. billyeager says

    I retch every time I hear them use the “Buh Buh But it’s been there fer years and nobody dun any complainin’ about it” routine.

    What with all the recent exposure of historical cases of child abuse in schools, churches and clubs, are we also expected to accept that same excuse in mitigation?

  20. abb3w says

    @20, John Pieret

    According to that story, the school board’s “defense” will be:

    […]

    In addition to what you quoted, the story also says:

    The portrait had generally been said to have been donated by the student group in 1947, but the school board Tuesday night disavowed ownership and said the Hi-Y club had asserted that it owns the portrait.

    While a judge might occasionally let slide a litigation argument that is an insult to his intelligence if sufficiently sympathetic to the litigant’s cause (and the litigant can maintain a straight face), this seems like it might be flat out lying about the historical facts… which even sympathetic judges tend to regard with deep ire.

    A bit of poking turns up Sklar v. Board of Education of Harrison County, with another copy of the portrait over in WV; the school board there eventually settled, due to the mounting pile of legal bills… though not before (weirdly) someone broke in and stole the portrait.

    However, I suspect the “it’s an open forum” approach will collapse quickly as smart-ass students proceed to demand posting depictions of Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bobby Fischer, and a poster of the Mururoa atoll nuclear test.

  21. says

    I suspect the “it’s an open forum” approach will collapse quickly as smart-ass students proceed to demand posting depictions of Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bobby Fischer, and a poster of the Mururoa atoll nuclear test.

    I suspect that they limited the “forum” to student clubs just to prevent individual students from doing that. The next step might be to try to organize a Gay-Straight Alliance club or an atheists club, which will (eventually) cause them to abolish all studen clubs and then they’d be back at square one.

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