Ohio School Settles Jesus Picture Case


The Jackson City School District in southern Ohio has settled a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation over a picture of Jesus that hung in the lobby of the school for decades. They agreed to remove the picture and pay the legal fees of the plaintiffs.

In the settlement accepted yesterday by U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley, the Jackson City School District agreed to pay $3,000 in damages to each of the suit’s five anonymous plaintiffs.

The district also will pay $80,000 to cover legal fees incurred by the Ohio chapter of the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis., which sued the district on behalf of the three parents and two students…

“This case could have ended before it began if the school had simply acknowledged that it is not the government’s place to endorse one specific religion in a public school that children are legally required to attend,” he [James Hardiman, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio] said. “This is a basic constitutional principle backed up by decades of case law.”

Messages left yesterday for the school district’s attorneys and for Superintendent Phil Howard were not returned, but in a statement released to the Associated Press, Howard said the attorneys believed that settling was the “best-case scenario” because of mounting expenses. He said the district’s insurance, not taxpayers, will pay the damages and legal fees.

The ACLU is right, this could all have been avoided if they had just admitted that it was illegal and taken it down up front. Their attorney likely told them they were going to lose the case.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    He said the district’s insurance, not taxpayers, will pay the damages and legal fees.

    If the district’s attorneys advised them that they were going to lose the case, is the insurance company still on the hook?

  2. zero6ix says

    It’s Morton’s fork for martyrs. Fight the fight, lose, and whine being persecuted, or acquiesce to the original complaint and whine about being persecuted.

  3. says

    He said the district’s insurance, not taxpayers, will pay the damages and legal fees

    Who pays the insurance premiums, which will doubtless be going up now that the insurers have discovered they insured a bunch of fools?

  4. says

    is the insurance company still on the hook?

    There’s a good chance that the insurance company could deny the claim, and then the school district would have no option but to double down by trying to sue the insurers, which would likely result in a horrible defeat. That bit about “He said the district’s insurance, not taxpayers” was a weak attempt to deflect retribution.

  5. MikeMa says

    I agree with Marcus Ranum. If for whatever screwy reason the insurance is paying for this foolishness, the policy will be cancelled or premiums will rise significantly to cover for this and all future stupidity.

  6. says

    Most insurance policies exclude coverage for illegal acts, including intentional or knowing violation of the law.

    And even if insurance did cover these costs, that’s still on the taxpayer’s dime.

    And of course, any ninny knows that the cost of insurance is spread across the policyholders. That’s how it WORKS.

    It’ss pathetic that fools like these are in the business of education.

  7. John Pieret says

    If the district’s attorneys advised them that they were going to lose the case, is the insurance company still on the hook?

    IIRC, the school district exercised some stalling tactics, removing the “portrait” to another location but not promising not to return it. Almost certainly, the reason it agreed to the settlement, which was reached last July:

    http://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/18115-portrait-of-jesus-displayed-at-middle-school

    was because the insurance company told it that, if it didn’t settle, the carrier would disclaim. Until it actually disclaimed, however, the carrier would be on the hook for the costs of the suit.

  8. says

    “…is not the government’s place to endorse one specific religion in a public school that children are legally required to attend…”

    If not the government’s, then whose? Who is better placed to force other peoples’ children to live under my religion than the government?

  9. abb3w says

    “The agreement was reached upon the advice of counsel prior to another court date to respond to a contempt charge against the district because of the use of the portrait during the celebration of the National Day of Prayer. Our attorneys felt like this was the best case scenario for the district because the legal fees were mounting by the day. The settlement did not cost the district or taxpayers any money because it was paid for by the district insurance company. According to our legal counsel it made more sense under the circumstance to resolve the matter because further litigation could have exposed the district to a much larger claim by the ACLU for their legal fees.”

  10. eric says

    The agreement was reached upon the advice of counsel prior to another court date to respond to a contempt charge against the district because of the use of the portrait during the celebration of the National Day of Prayer.

    Am I interpreting that right? The school district gets sued. They have some initial legal meeting with the judge and plaintiff to discuss what they can do while the case is going on. They then violate that agreement by trotting the pic out on the National Day of Prayer. In response, the judge finds them in contempt and puts a daily or increasing fine on them.

    Self-inflicted indeed.

  11. Cuttlefish says

    My favorite part of this one is that virtually every right-wing news release on this mentions (often in the headline) the atheists winning… but none mention the fact that one of the plaintiffs, a girl at the school, identifies as Christian, but saw the portrait as not representative of her own faith. This was clearly a fight for the freedom of one Christian girl not to be steamrollered by the state.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2013/10/08/christian-plaintiff-wins-jesus-portrait-case-in-jackson-oh/

  12. John Pieret says

    Eric @ 11:

    Am I interpreting that right? The school district gets sued. They have some initial legal meeting with the judge and plaintiff to discuss what they can do while the case is going on. They then violate that agreement by trotting the pic out on the National Day of Prayer. In response, the judge finds them in contempt and puts a daily or increasing fine on them.

    Sorry, not quite. There had been no contempt citation yet.

    I dipped into the court file and what happened was that, back in April, the court had before ir a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to make the school take the portrait down. Prior to the ruling, the parties stipulated that the school would take it down until the plaintiff’s either gave it permission to display it or the court ordered that it could. The court reduced the stipulation to an order. Then the school did a dumb thing and displayed it on the National Day of Prayer. The ACLU brought an order to show cause (OTSC) why the school shouldn’t be held in contempt for violating the court’s order. The OTSC was to be heard on July 12th. A settlement conference was held on July 2nd and a settlement agreement was filed on July 10th that included a motion by both parties to vacate the OTSC, which the judge granted.

    In short, the school settled looking down the barrel of a pissed-off Federal judge’s locked and loaded contempt citation.

  13. Ben P says

    If the district’s attorneys advised them that they were going to lose the case, is the insurance company still on the hook?

    No one can say for sure without reading the actual insurance policy.

    There are two possibilities here. (1) that this sort of thing might fall under an “intentional acts” exception in the policy, or (2) if the carrier told the school “don’t do that” and they did it anyway, that it falls under non-cooperation.

    However, if the insurance denied coverage on a six figure claim, you can absolutely guarantee the school itself would sue the insurance company over their denial of coverage, there’d be a big nasty fight that would cost both sides tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees if not more.

    As a lawyer that used to do insurance defense and coverage, I can tell you typically settlements of this nature will resolve both the coverage issues and the liability issues in the underlying suit. The insurance company, knowing they probably had some reasonable coverage defenses, saw an opportunity to settle the suit for reasonably cheap. ($92,000 give or take, plus the expenses the carrier had already racked up) and told the school in no unequivocal terms, “you will take this settlement, and you will abide by it, or there will be issues in the future.

    The insurance company pays the settlement, gets out for cheaper than it would be in the long run, and the school can’t argue about any coverage issues.

  14. TxSkeptic says

    It seems that nationwide, these types of problems from schools & local governments can be significantly reduced if the insurance industry would explicitly warn & disclaim upfront, before policies are accepted & in place, that these types of church state separation issues will not be covered at all, period. Or deny coverage in the first place if violations are found in pre-insurance risk inspections.

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