School Says Lawsuit Over Jesus Painting In Public School Is Prem - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

School Says Lawsuit Over Jesus Painting In Public School Is Premature

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The lawyer for the school at the heart of a lawsuit centering around a painting of Jesus Christ says he will make a recommendation to the school board next Tuesday at the school board meeting which he believes will leave both sides "satisfied."

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week asking that a portrait of Jesus hanging in the hallway of Jackson Middle School be taken down. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of a "Sam Doe" who is a student at the public school.

"If religious liberty means anything it means that government must stay out of the religion business," said Gary Daniels, Associate Director for the ACLU of Ohio.

Ohio falls under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Federal Circuit Court. According to Daniels, in a case with the same facts in Michigan two decades ago the Sixth Circuit ruled that the religious picture violated the First Amendment and had to be taken down. Daniels says legal precedent is clear that Jackson Middle School is violating the Constitution. 

"They might think it's not hurting anybody…but when you have a public school with a portrait of Jesus Christ in the hallway near the entrance on the wall that is absolutely and unquestionably an endorsement of religion," Daniels said.

School officials say the portrait has hung at the school for more than 60 years. However after the ACLU's objection the district retained the Liberty Institute to investigate and make a recommendation. Liberty Institute is a Texas based, non-profit group that focuses on religious liberty cases and now represents the school.

Hiram Sasser with LI says he was disappointed the lawsuit was filed days before he makes his recommendation to the school board on Tuesday.

"I think at the end of the day next week everybody should be happy with what the reported recommendation is going to have to offer. And I really believe that everybody on both sides should be satisfied. I just wish that the ACLU would've waited to see if they would have felt satisfied by what's going to happen next week," Sasser said.

Daniels however says his group repeatedly tried to resolve the issue before filing a lawsuit.

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