A portrait of Jesus has been on display over an entrance at Jackson Middle School in Jackson City, Ohio since 1947, and according to Phil Howard, Superintendent, it will remain there, despite demands from the Freedom from Religion Foundation that it be removed. According to the Huffington Post, the activist group dedicated to separation of church and state argued that the painting by its presence in the public school is unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity.
"There’s really no gray area here," said Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney for the foundation. "This is a blatant infringement on our First Amendment rights."
Superintendent Phil Howard said the image is permissible because it was "student initiated" -- a gift from student group Hi-Y Club. Howard spoke to a crowd of more than 300 that had gathered for a meeting on the issue Tuesday, announcing that the school will not remove the picture because it is legal and "has historical significance. It hasn't hurt anyone." The crowd erupted into cheering at the announcement although there were also some boos.
"I'm certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wis. who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down," Howard told reporters.
In light of Howard's decision, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio wrote to the district Thursday warning that displaying the portrait is unconstitutional. Freedom from Religion Foundation officials say they would consider legal action if the Jackson Middle School officials do not voluntarily remove the painting.
The presence of Jesus Christ in a portrait in Jackson Middle School has certainly generated controversy in this rural southeastern Ohio community. The majority of the citizens attending the school board meeting seem to want to keep Christ in the schools by keeping the portrait up rather than taking it down, as the separation of church and state debate rages on.