Atheists are demanding that an Ohio school district remove an image of Jesus Christ that is currently hanging inside of Jackson Middle School. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) claims that the portrait is potentially alienating non-Christian students and faculty, alike, and that it shows a public endorsement of Christianity over other faiths.
Despite these allegations, District Superintendent Phil Howard is refusing to remove the image unless he receives orders from a judge or the school board. The picture of Jesus and its posting is a decades-old student gift and initiative.
Currently, it is displayed in the school’s “Hall of Honor,” among pictures of other well-known individuals. According to WKKJ, the images featured in this hallway depict “influential figures and distinguished alumni.”
“A lot of things are permissible so long as they are student-led or student-initiated,” Howard explained, noting that pupils gave the image, thus allowing for it to hang.
The portrait was given to the school by a group of students in 1947. But after decades of hanging on the school’s walls without incident, the FFRF sent a letter on Jan. 2 to demand that it be taken down, charging that it is a violation of the First Amendment.
The Jackson County Daily reports that an anonymous source likely complained about the presence of the image, sending information about its presence to the Madison, Wisconsin-based organization:
It is believed that someone locally forwarded a photo of the picture to the foundation’s Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert, of Madison, Wisconsin. […]
Markert protected the identity of the person who sent the information and would not divulge any information in regards to if this person was from Jackson. She indicated the foundation is a national membership organization that receives tips about church and state violations from all over the country and that they protect the identities of those individuals who make the reports. She also implied that many of the foundation’s members themselves are somewhat secretive because they don’t want to be outed in their communities as atheists.
In the letter, FFRF attorney Markert wrote that the image turns any student or staff member who does not embrace Jesus Christ “into an outsider.”
Despite these claims, Howard is doubling down and has no intentions of complying.
“I’m certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wisconsin, who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down,” proclaimed the superintendent.
The debate is currently at a standstill, as the FFRF awaits a response from the district.