The US Supreme Court has made it quite clear that public schools cannot take a stand one way or another in favor of or against religion. This means that the school administrators and teachers, who are seen as agents of the government, cannot be seen as promoting any or all religions or no religion. Strict neutrality is what is called for.
However, the courts have tended to be more lenient with allowing students to voluntarily express their religious views and feelings, since such actions would not constitute an official endorsement of religion. Via reader Ahcuah, I learned of an effort by a school district to use that as a loophole to continue to display a portrait of Jesus.
The Jackson City Schools in southeastern Ohio has had a portrait of Jesus hanging in its hallway for 66 years. This was challenged recently but the school board voted 4-0 to keep it, claiming that it belongs to a student group and that it hangs in an area where students are free to post other portraits and hence this is not an official endorsement of Jesus by the school.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU have, on behalf of a student and two parents (all unidentified), filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Columbus.
I think the outcome of this case will hinge on three things: the history of the portrait, the nature of the space where it hangs, and whether the portrait of Jesus dominates the space. In the case of the first, it will depend on whether the school district was involved in the original hanging or the aftermath and is now hiding behind students to skirt the Establishment Clause. In the second, it will depend on whether the space where it hangs is truly neutral and would allow students to hang portraits of Krishna and icons of other religions or even anti-religious statements. And the third will depend won whether it is a large portrait that dominates the space or whether it is just another image surrounded by many images of similar size and impact that may not be noticed by someone casually walking by.
It should be an interesting case.