A portrait of Jesus that has hung at the entrance of an Ohio school since 1947 has come down after a lawsuit claimed the painting was an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.
Officials from the Jackson City School District in southern Ohio made the decision on Tuesday to voluntarily remove the Jesus portrait after the district's insurance company said it would not cover legal expenses if the school lost a lawsuit brought by two parents and a student.
"At the end of the day, we just couldn't roll the dice with taxpayer money," Superintendent Phil Howard told The Associated Press. "When you get into these kinds of legal battles, you're not talking about money you can raise with bake sales and car washes. It's not fair to take those resources from our kids' education."
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of two parents and a student who felt the portrait was an unconstitutional promotion of religion in a public school. Federal courts have ruled that public schools can't display religious symbols and texts alone, because it crosses the line dividing church from state.
In January, before the lawsuit was filed, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school district asking that the portrait be taken down. Hundreds of people turned out at a school board meeting to protest the removal of the painting, citing its historical significance
The school district argued that the portrait of Jesus was private student speech displayed in a "limited public forum" and was not school-endorsed "governmental speech."
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The Jackson City School District announced its decision to remove the portrait at a federal court hearing Tuesday in Columbus. ACLU spokesman Nick Worner told the AP that as long as the portrait stays down, there is no reason to pursue further legal action.
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