A large, old portrait Jesus hanging in a southern Ohio school since 1947 will remain there after a crowd of people appeared at a school board meeting Tuesday to protest against an effort to have it removed.
The painting, faded with age and dust, has been over the entrance at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio for nearly 66 years without causing any problems, reports the Columbus Dispatch
. But a nonprofit group that promotes the separation of church and state called earlier this month to have it taken down, claiming its display amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.
More than 300 people turned out for the school board meeting, but only two spoke out against the portrait, one of them drawing boos from the crowd. School Superintendent Phil Howard told the crowd it would take more than the Freedom From Religion Foundation to remove the painting after it had been there so long.
The foundation sent a letter to Howard on Jan. 2 demanding the painting be removed.
"We're not violating the law and the picture is legal because it has historical significance. It hasn't hurt anyone," Howard said at the meeting, according to the Dispatch. "With support of the board, the picture will stay."
Foundation staff attorney Rebecca Markert, however, asserted the portrait's display violates federal law and threatened legal action.
"The school cannot endorse religion over non-religion," she said, according to the Dispatch. "That sends an incredibly powerful message of religious endorsement, specifically Christianity, which is an egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution. If this goes to court, the district would lose."
But Howard indicated the school board was willing to take that chance. Earlier in the say he told a radio station it would take a court order to remove and insisted that did not violate federal law because it is displayed with other pictures.
The Dispatch noted that federal courts have ruled that public schools can’t display religious symbols and texts alone, because it crosses the line dividing church from state.
A similar case in 1994 resulted in a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that forced a Michigan elementary school to remove a painting of Jesus that had been displayed there for more than 30 years.
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