A dispute over church-state separation has surfaced over a Jesus portrait that hangs in the hall at a southern Ohio public middle school.
The image was presented to Jackson Middle School by a group of students in 1947 and has been hanging on the “Hall of Honor” since then.
The picture of Jesus is joined by nearly 50 others of distinguished alumni and other people who have made a difference in the Jackson City School District.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation warned the district in a Jan. 2 letter that displaying the image in a public school is unconstitutional.
The group said the portrait represents the school's endorsement of a particular religion, potentially alienating non-Christian students.
District Superintendent Phil Howard said that he would not remove it without a school board or judge's order.
A number of parents said that they did not want to see the portrait removed, either.
“I would see that picture every day,” said parent Erika Keaton. “It meant hope to me.”
She and reportedly hundreds of others are gathering together to try to save the portrait at the school.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation said that the school is publicly endorsing Christianity over other faiths.
The group urged the school to take the “necessary steps” to come “into compliance with the Constitution” and take it down.
“For anyone to insinuate that this picture would cause someone to be excluded is really a reach,” Howard said. “It’s not something we’re trying to force on any of our students.”
Howard said that he argues the portrait was a gift from student and should therefore be allowable.
“I’m going on about our normal daily activities, trying to educate students the best we can, and we’ll see what happens from here,” Howard said.
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