The Jackson Ohio school district voted to keep up the Jesus picture hanging in the middle school lobby. It claims since it doesn’t own the picture then they will keep it up and allow other student groups to hang pictures of importance to them. This is an old dodge that people use to justify forcing religion on people. That dodge doesn’t absolve the defendants of violating the 1st amendment and the picture still needs to be removed.
The Jackson City Schools board offered a constitutional justification of its own in voting 4-0 to keep the portrait up in its middle school, saying it must protect students’ free speech rights. The vote drew cheers and applause from the dozens of people gathered in the elementary school gymnasium.
After huddling with attorneys in closed session for more than an hour, the school board said the portrait belongs to the student group that put it up, the Hi-Y club. The portrait’s frame is inscribed with the club’s name and the Christian-based service group is the portrait’s owner, not the school, the board said.
The board said the portrait is part of a “limited public forum,” and that the Jackson schools will allow other student clubs to hang portraits appropriate to their organizations.
“We’re in a predicament where we have to balance things,” said Superintendent Phil Howard said after the meeting. “We can’t make that kind of endorsement (of religion) as a government entity. But we also can’t infringe upon the rights of our student groups and our students.”
The school district is claiming that since it doesn’t “own” the picture it can’t violate the student group’s free speech rights by removing the it. It also claims the only option is to allow any picture a student group wants to hang in the lobby to “balance” the message.
In the AP report there is a mention of a battle over the display of Ten Commandments markers outside the four high schools in nearby Adams county that started in 1997. In that case, the school district claimed it didn’t own the markers since it was donated by a group of ministers and they added other items around the marker to mask the sectarianism. The school district lost that case in 2002 and the markers were removed.
A couple of bits of the Adams County decision seems applicable to this case:
A governmental display of the Ten Commandments that is a part of a larger display of documents of legal or historical significance may be constitutional, depending on the context. See County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573, 613-620, 109 S.Ct. 3086, 106 L.Ed.2d 472 (1989) (Blackmun, J.); ?id. at 632-38, 109 S.Ct. 3086 (O’Connor, J., concurring). In the instant case, the Ten Commandments monuments were initially displayed alone. Only after the litigation was commenced were they incorporated into the larger Foundations of American Law and Government displays. The district court found that the alteration of the Ten Commandments displays to include four other nonreligious monuments was insufficient to support the defendant’s avowed secular purpose in permitting the displays on school property. Although the defendant has not shown a strong or substantial likelihood of success on the merits, its challenge to the district court’s ruling raises at least serious appellate issues.
Moreover, the granting of a stay pending appeal will subject the high school students and others who frequent the schools to continuing violations of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court “has been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools,” because “[i]n no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in the schools.” Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 583-84, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 96 L.Ed.2d 510 (1987) (quotation omitted). The Supreme Court has also made clear that a violation of First Amendment rights, even for a short time, causes irreparable harm. See Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976). When a public entity’s religious display violates the Establishment Clause, the public entity sends a message indicating that the authority of the State stands behind a particular religious viewpoint. This message, whether subtle or overt, is impermissible.
Adding non-religious items to “balance” the religious item doesn’t remove the violation and having the religious item in the public area gives the idea that the government is endorsing that religion. Jesus isn’t a generic symbol of religion. He is a symbol of Christianity.
There is no guarantee how a court case will turn out at this point but the Jackson city schools is going down an old wrong road of resolution.
*Some other notes*
A commenter on a previous post mentioned a similar case in Harrison County West Virginia in 2006. There were a couple of complaints over a Jesus painting hanging in a school. The school board ignored the complaints and voted to keep the painting up. A few days after the lawsuit was filed someone broke into the school and stole the picture. The case, Sklar v. Board of Education of Harrison County, continued and was settled out of court. The school district agreed not to put the portrait back up. Under the settlement order, the District is barred from ever again hanging the Head of Christ painting in Bridgeport High School.
Some comments left on the Youtube video I posted in an earlier article on this case has distressed me. I really wish that people who don’t support the 1st amendment would do some basic research, on this blog and elsewhere, before using old, tired, and refuted arguments. For example I would be rich if I had a nickel for every time an opponent would claim the separation of church and state isn’t in the Constitution. Or the false claim that prayer and Bibles are banned from public schools. This is what Google is for. Here is a free link to check out: Religion in the Public Schools
Oh and the whine “if the picture was of Muhammad nothing would be said about it” is also false. Some Muslims get very angry if pictures of their prophet are shown. They believe such visual images are Idolatry. In fact riots have happened just based on cartoons of Muhammad. Probably not only would something be said but some wacko would burn the school down to stop the picture from being shown.