Jackson schools settles lawsuit over portrait

By Wayne Allen

October 5, 2013

Wayne Allen

PDT Staff Writer

Jackson City Schools has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought on the by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The Freedom From Religion Foundation for hanging a portrait of Jesus on school property.

According to the Associated Press, terms of the settlement include the district permanently removing the portrait and paying the organization damages and legal fees totaling nearly six figures.

“Jackson (City Schools) had been maintaining and displaying a portrait of Jesus in public schools for several years. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU both sent a letter to Jackson schools requesting they remove the portrait because in was, in our opinion, clearly a first amendment violation of the establishment clause,” said James Hardiman, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio. “The superintendent issued some statements that he would not take the portrait down absent of court order. Following that statement, we filed a lawsuit.”

Hardiman said as the lawsuit was going though the court system, the portrait was removed from the middle school where it had hung for a number of years and placed in the high school.

“At that point we filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, restraining them (Jackson City Schools) from continuing to violate the first amendment against the establishment of religion,” Hardiman said.

He said there was a hearing scheduled on the temporary restraining order before United States District Judge for the Southern District of Ohio Algenon Marbley.

“At the hearing we reached an agreement that they (Jackson City Schools) would no longer maintain or display the portrait,” Hardiman said. “However, on the National Day of Prayer, we learned thy had displayed the portrait. There was a picture that appeared in which the principal was seen holding hands praying around the flagpole with the portrait prominently displayed.”

Hardiman said at that point the ACLU and The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed contempt charges against the school.

“We had a hearing before the magistrate on the issue if they were in contempt,” Hardiman said.

He said an agreement was reached between the parties at the hearing.

“We finally got an agreement that they would do four things, permanently remove the portrait, they would be enjoined from maintaining or displaying the portrait, they would agree to permanently maintain the anonymity of the plaintiffs and pay attorney fees and damages.”

He said that agreement was reached nearly three months ago.

Hardiman said the court recently approved the settlement agreement and consent decree. He said on that basis the lawsuit was dropped.

“We were kind of disappointed because we don’t like to take money from school districts even though this was insurance money. By the same token we felt the school district had an obligation to comply with the law,” Hardiman said.

When asked if this lawsuit sent a message to other schools districts, Hardiman said, “Hopefully other schools won’t be inclined to violate the constitution and hopefully Jackson (City Schools) will move on from this, recognizing the obvious that they should not support religion in any way, shape or form.”

Hardiman said he hopes that other school districts will take this issue seriously.

“There is a reason the establishment clause prohibits the establishment of religion. We happen to be, by-in-large, a Christian country, but by the same token we have to recognize there are other religions.” Hardiman said. “We have to respect those other religions and we can not permit the state to become involved in establishing a preferred religion and if nothing else I hope that’s what come out of this litigation,” Hardiman said.

Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228, or tallen@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Wayne on Twitter @WayneallenPDT.