A story, at the top of the 6 PM newscast on WBNS 10TV in Columbus, about a complaint over a Jesus portrait hanging in an Ohio middle school hit all the false talking points over religious symbols in a public school. The report missed or ignored an opportunity to give accurate information on the 1st amendment and instead spent a majority of time trying to defend an obvious illegal act.
WBNS 10TV is the top ranked news station in Columbus Ohio. It’s owned by the company that also owns the only print newspaper in town, The Columbus Dispatch. 10TV gave 3 minutes at the top of their premiere 6 PM newscast, on Monday 01/07, about a complaint lodged against a portrait of Jesus hanging in the public area of the middle school in Jackson Ohio. Chuck Strickler, who is also an anchor at the station was the reporter on the story. The fact they gave the story 3 minutes of time on the primary newscast and had one of their veteran anchor/reporters doing the story shows how important 10TV believed the story to be.
What was disappointing was with such a high profile, the report used false religious right talking points, sounded like a defense of the picture, and didn’t include any live interviews of those who oppose the picture or who might be a legal expert in 1st amendment cases. Strickler and 10TV missed a prime opportunity to correctly educate their viewers about issues concerning religious symbols in public schools. Instead they made it seem like a policy debate which it is not.
Strickler said that the Jesus picture is the largest, but not the only picture in the so-called “hall of honor”. What Jesus did in the Jackson county school district wasn’t mentioned but it was probably nothing since it’s only a picture of someone who might have lived thousands of years ago in the Middle East. Also Jesus is not a generic character. He represents a particular religious sect – Christianity. Public schools aren’t allowed to advance or support religion.
The superintendent, Phil Howard, said that the students donated the picture. He offered no proof, but claimed the donation made hanging the picture in the school okay. Even if students donated the picture it doesn’t matter since the school district is allowing the picture to be displayed. It’s seen as an endorsement of religion. What if the students donated a keg, would Howard let them have a keg party since the school didn’t provide it?
The superintendent is opening up the district to a costly lawsuit that will deprive students of needed educational resources and it will still have to remove the picture. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent the letter to prevent having to go to court. There is no wiggle room here.
This particular issue has been through the courts before when high schools in Adams county (also in southern Ohio) had to remove 10 Commandments markers in 2009. There was the more recent prayer banner case in Rhode Island. Someone with legal expertise should have reminded the superintendent what the law is.
There were live interviews with Christians upset the picture might be removed and it was noted that they would contact a national conservative group to help them defend the picture. Their view is if the picture is removed all of Christianity will collapse and the world will end. I really wish they would spend as much energy making sure students get a top flight education instead of trying to indoctrinate them with religion.
At the end of the story when the anchors were talking to Chuck Strickler he mentioned FFRF was the only complaint received. This is a common tactic when defending Christian privilege. Belittle the complaint as if it doesn’t mean anything since there is only one, then refer to history or tradition. The picture had been hanging in the school for 65 years. One complaint is enough especially if the school’s action is illegal, which it is, and just because the picture has been up for decades doesn’t make it immune to a lawsuit or make it okay to stay there.
Even if one person’s constitutional rights are violated, that is one too many. Removing the picture won’t violate the Christian’s religious freedom since they can walk down the street and go to church.
I was really disappointed that Chuck Strickler and 10TV dropped the ball on such an important story.
Here is a video of the story: