After 65+ years, Jesus portrait suddenly ‘unconstitutional’

Monday, February 11, 2013
Michael F. Haverluck (

Atheist activist groups are once again looking to eradicate all things Christian from another public school.

Jesus portrait (Ohio school)Alleging that a portrait of Jesus (left) that has been hanging inside the entrance of an Ohio middle school for more than 65 years is unconstitutional, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Jackson City School District for its permanent removal.

The ACLU of Ohio, along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, claim that the so-called "separation of church and state" precludes Jackson Middle School from hanging the painting, but School Superintendent Phil Howard disagrees.

"We're not violating the law and the picture is legal because it has historical significance," Howard announced at a January school board meeting regarding the leftist organizations' complaint to the school.  "It hasn't hurt anyone."

Despite the fact that the portrait has been displayed at the school since 1947, the ACLU and the Madison, Wis.-based FFRF argue that its existence on campus is a violation of the U.S. Constitution because it constitutes the endorsement of religion.

"The maintenance and display of the portrait has the effect of advancing and endorsing one religion, improperly entangling the State in religious affairs, and violating the personal consciences of plaintiffs," the ACLU maintains in its lawsuit.

A few 'offended,' a tradition ended?

The basis for filing the suit comes from minimal opposition.

One Jackson Middle School student and two parents of students enrolled at the school rose objections to the Jesus painting. As a result, the ACLU and FFRF complained to school officials, and the former group subsequently sued Superintendent Howard, the school board and the Jackson City School District on behalf of the three plaintiffs, who are cumulatively referred to as "Sam Doe."

A court order is being sought by the leftist groups to force the school to not only take the portrait down, but prevent it from displaying anything similar thereafter.

Out of town during a meeting taking place Thursday over the lawsuit, defendant Howard stated through a spokeswoman that he was confused why the ACLU filed its lawsuit before the school district was able to complete its investigation of the situation at the school, which is located some 65 miles south of Columbus, Ohio.


"It's obviously a delicate balance," said Hiram Sasser, the director of litigation for Liberty Institute, which is representing the Jackson City School District in the lawsuit. Sasser -- who previously informed the ACLU in a statement that his Plano, Texas-based institute was investigating the matter -- asserted on Thursday that the activist group's lawsuit was premature.

According to Howard, a school board meeting on Feb. 12 will open a discussion to take "an appropriate course of action" in dealing with the suit.

Corroborating Howard's statement, Sasser indicated that the Institute's findings and recommendations are scheduled to be presented to and reviewed by the school board on Tuesday in order to ensure that the law was being followed at every juncture.

Liberty Institute also noted that there is no indication that a single complaint has been made about the Jesus portrait over more than six decades.

But the school's longstanding tradition and the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution do little to sway ACLU spokesman Nick Worner's position.

"Separation of church and state is one of the nation's oldest traditions," Worner argues, claiming that the complaint is valid because the portrait interferes with constitutional rights.

Separation from historical context

Yet Liberty University vice president, dean and professor of law Mathew D. Staver asserts that the "separation of church and state argument" holds little water in history and law books.

Staver, Mat (Liberty Counsel)"The ACLU and the liberal media have touted the phrase so many times that most people believe the phrase is in the Constitution," contends Staver, who is also the director for the Liberty Center for Law and Policy. "Nowhere is 'separation of church and state' referenced in the Constitution. This phrase was in the former Soviet Union's Constitution, but it has never been part of the United States Constitution."

Ironically, the term "wall of separation between church of state" was coined the same year (1947) that the Jesus painting went up at Jackson Middle School, and Staver attests that the phrase has been misused ever since.

"In 1947, the Supreme Court popularized Thomas Jefferson's 'wall of separation between church and state,'" Staver points out. "Taking the Jefferson metaphor out of context, strict separationists have often used the phrase to silence Christians and to limit any Christian influence from affecting the political system."

So what exactly were Jefferson's intentions behind the "wall" metaphor? Staver explains.

"Jefferson undoubtedly meant that the First Amendment prohibited the federal Congress from enacting any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," the longtime attorney, author and scholar insists.

"The First Amendment clearly erected a barrier between the federal government and religion on a state level. If a state chose to have no religion, or to have an established religion, the federal government had no jurisdiction one way or the other. This is what Thomas Jefferson meant by the 'wall of separation.'"

According to Staver, ACLU lawsuits using the "separation of church and state" argument misrepresent the law to intimidate all things religious from the public square.

The "wall of separation between church and state" phrase as understood by Jefferson was never meant to exclude people of faith from influencing and shaping government," comments Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. "Jefferson would be shocked to learn that his letter has been used as a weapon against religion. He would never countenance such shabby and distorted use of history." (More comments from Staver)

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