Atheist activist groups are once again looking to eradicate all
things Christian from another public 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
"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.
"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
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
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
comments from Staver)