JACKSON, Ohio (AP) -- A middle school in Ohio will be forced to permanently remove a portrait of Jesus from its school grounds and pay nearly $100,000 after reaching a settlement Friday with two groups, including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The settlement requires the Jackson City School District in southern Ohio to pay the ACLU and Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation damages and legal fees totaling $95,000.
FILE-This Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 file photo shows a painting of Jesus Christ, upper left, hanging above an entrance to Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio next to a "Hall of Honor" showing famous Jackson residents and school alumni. The Jackson City School district said displaying a Jesus portrait in its high school doesn't violate the U.S. Constitution and students' free speech rights would be violated if a judge orders it removed. The school district on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 asked a federal judge not to grant the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation's motion for an order removing the portrait. Credit: AP
The two sides had a tentative agreement months ago that bogged down in more legal filings after the two groups said the school district continued to keep the Jesus portrait, and displayed it on the school lawn during a prayer meeting. Court filings show the portrait was also visible to those entering an art-storage area.
"All of this was unnecessary," said James Hardiman, legal director for ACLU of Ohio. "The law is pretty clear ... the display of this particular kind of religious artifact (in a public school) is unconstitutional."
He said U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley in Columbus accepted the settlement Friday.
Superintendent Phil Howard said in a statement that the district's attorneys believed settling was the "best case scenario" at this point because legal fees were "mounting by the day."
He said the district's insurance will pay the nearly $95,000 and taxpayers will not be liable for the damages and legal fees.