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home : local news : local news May 1, 2016

1/4/2013 4:39:00 PM
Group to school: Jesus must go
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has insisted Jackson City Schools in Ohio remove a portrait of Jesus Christ from the Middle School foyer. Written, filmed and produced by Brad S. Sherman for TheTelegramNews.com
A framed portrait of Jesus Christ has hung in the foyer of the front entrance of the Jackson Middle School (JMS) building for at least seven decades.

However, Jackson City School District officials are now being pressured to take it down by a national organization, which asserts its presence is illegal, based on the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state and related case law.

But Jackson Superintendent of Schools Phil Howard believes there is a legal basis for the portrait to remain in place and has no intention, at this point, to take it down.

The demand for the portrait's removal came in a January 2 letter to Jackson Superintendent of Schools Phil Howard from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, which apparently acted after an unidentified "complainant" contacted the Foundation and even supplied a photo of the portrait at JMS.

The foundation describes itself on its website as a non-profit organization which is "the nation's largest association of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics with over 18,000 members."

"We received a disturbing report that a portrait of Jesus is hanging in Jackson Middle School," Foundation Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert wrote to Howard. "If this report is true, it is an egregious violation of the First Amendment. As you are certainly aware, the display of religious messages in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Courts have continually held that public schools may not display religious messages or iconography. Jackson City Schools may not display Christian or other religious messages on school grounds."

Superintendent Howard does not agree and, at least for now, will not comply with the Foundation's demand -- and his tone sounded a bit defiant.

"I will follow a directive from a court, a judge, or a vote by our board of education to do so," Howard told The Telegram Friday, "but I will certainly not take the picture down because a group that knows nothing about the culture of our community wants it to be taken down. I personally support it being there and so does every member of our board of education."

Howard feels there is a legal basis to display the portrait at JMS because he says it was presented many years ago to the school by a student-led group, the Hi-Y.

"The law is vague about the separation of church and state," Howard explained. "My understanding is that it's permissible if it involves a student-led or student-directed activity. And in this case, the picture was provided by students of the Hi-Y. Based on my schooling on the separation of church and state, this is not a violation of any law."

The foundation obviously disagrees and Markert cites case-law decisions in her letter to Howard. She said the presence of the Jesus portrait suggests it has the "district's stamp of approval."

"If a district were to promote religion over non-religion it would impermissibly turn any non-believing student, parent, or staff member into an outsider," Markert concluded. "This is especially likely considering 1 in 5 Americans are non-religious and 1 in 3 younger Americans are non-religious. The potential to exclude and alienate is great."

Markert concluded, "It is illegal for Jackson Middle School to post religious images on the walls of its school. If true, the district must remove the picture of Jesus at once. We ask that you commence an immediate investigation into this allegation and take the appropriate and necessary steps to bring Jackson Middle School into compliance with the Constitution."

Howard responded, "As far as I'm concerned, no violation exists and I'm finished with it for now. The picture will stay." He realizes there is a potential for a lawsuit or some other type of action from the foundation, but says the district will deal with that if it occurs.

Holzer Medical Center

No one was able to confirm with certainty how long the Jesus portrait has hung at the middle school. The current JMS was the former Jackson High School building, which opened in the 1931-32 school year. Howard says he has been told the portrait has been there since at least 1947.

"I've been here 6 years and no one has ever made an objection to it being there," Howard said of the Jesus portrait, adding the "complainant" who recently notified the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not also lodge that complaint with school officials.

Howard also noted the Jesus portrait isn't the only picture in the JMS foyer. Hanging on the side walls are the photographs of the inductees of the Jackson City School District's Hall of Honor.

JMS Principal Mark Broermann added, "I have never heard an objection from community members, students, or parents about this picture in our Hall of Honor."

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: Dave Warner

Holy Cow! Does this mean all the pictures of people on the wall who are KNOWN Christians must also be removed? This sounds like another case of the minority trying to force their beliefs on the majority. Maybe it would make it ok if we hung up a picthure of Satan next to Jesus and they could have their age old discussion again!

Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Article comment by: Jack Stevens

Of course a picture of jesus is unconstitutional and must be taken down.

Why is it that Christians always ignore Matthew 6:6?

Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Article comment by: Class of 93

I grew up here and I was bullied for not being Christian. It started in the 3rd grade when a little girl asked if I took Jesus as my lord and savior. I didn't know what she was talking about. My family is Jewish and while I was raised on traditions, it wasn't exactly reasonable to practice on a regular basis living in southern Ohio. This went on, on a regular basis, until I was in the 6th grade. Then it started up again in high school when I was told over and over again that I was going to go to hell. So, for those of you who say this doesn't hurt anything, you're terribly wrong.

Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Article comment by: Adrea Rippeth

David S.,
Reading comprehension is also an indicator of "educational outcomes". Perhaps you should read through the article again. This is not regarding Jackson, Mississippi...this is regarding Jackson, Ohio. I understand the confusion...primarily because my Jackson (Ohio) Middle School Geography class taught me that there is more than one Jackson city in the entire United States (maybe yours did not?). You might want to re-think criticizing other school systems before you have dotted all of your i's and crossed all of your t's.

Thanks, Adrea Rippeth, Proud graduate of Jackson (Ohio) city schools.

Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Article comment by: Steve Edwards

Except the analogy does not hold - it is a straw man. A more accurate scenario would be one where the speed limit has always been 35mph, the "violator" has always done 35mph down that road along with all of the usual users of that road (or, at least, the vast majority) until arbitrarily, based on a challenged interpretation of law, and without agreement or consultation with the regular users of that road, someone alters the speed limit to 15mph and then virtuously froths at the mouth over drivers who fail to see the purpose of the new requirement.

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