Group Asks District To Remove Jesus Christ Portrait

By
Felicia Tackett, Jackson County Times-Journal

Dateline
Updated Tue, Jan 8, 2013 3:56 pm
Photo Credit: 
Jeremiah Shaver, Jackson County Times-Journal

It has been a picture on the wall since the 1940s.

Thousands of Jackson City Schools students have passed by the portait, perhaps some never realizing it was even there.

Now a group based in Wisconsin, want the portait of Jesus Christ, that hangs above an entrance at Jackson Middle School, to be taken down, for what they say is a violation of the First Amendment.

A January 2 email and fax from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to Jackson City School Superintendent Phil Howard has caused quite a buzz in the community.

The issue causing the friction is a picture of Jesus that has hung in the building which now houses Jackson Middle School for as long as most people can remember.

It is believed that someone locally forwarded a photo of the picture to the foundation’s Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Markert, of Madison, Wisconsin.

Now Markert, on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is demanding the picture be removed because it is an “egregious violation of the First Amendment.”

Markert goes on to cite numerous case files in her letter to Howard.

“It is illegal for Jackson Middle School to post religious images on the wall of its school,” Markert wrote.

“If true, the District must remove the picture of Jesus at once. We ask that you commence an immediate investigation into the allegation and take the appropriate and necessary steps to bring Jackson Middle School into compliance with the Constitution. Please respond in writing so that we may assure our complaintant, members, and those following the situation that the district has not impermissibly endorsed religion,” the letter stated.

“I, personally, don’t believe we are in violation of the Constitution,” Superintendent Howard said.

“That picture was donated or presented to the district by Hi-Y Club students and has been hanging in that building since 1947. I have done some research, and because it was a student led presentation, it is permissible as far as I am concerned,” Howard explained.

Howard went on to say that he has served as the Superintendent for Jackson City Schools for six years, and that this is the first time anyone had complained about the picture. Howard also stated that the picture hangs in the Wall of Honor portion of the school and that there are many other pictures on display in that entranceway of people who have had an impact in the district over the years.

After discussing the situation with the school board members, Howard stated, “I am not running over there to take the picture down and all of the school board members totally support that decision.”

Howard indicated that at this point the only way the picture would come down is if he was ordered to do so by a court or judge, or if the board members requested he do so.

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.

“The first letter was just sent out two days ago and we asked for an investigation to determine whether the picture is still there and then to respond to us about whether or not it was done,” Markert said of Freedom From Religion Foundation’s initial steps.

“We normally give about a month for the investigation to be conducted and if we don’t hear back from them within that time, a second letter will be sent,” she added.

Markert implied that once the foundation receives a response as to whether or not the entity has complied with their request, they determine what their further actions will be.

“Most school districts generally comply,” Markert stated, “But some don’t because of community outrage. Then we decide what the next step will be, and most times they eventually do comply.”

This story originally appeared in the Jackson County Times-Journal and was re-posted with permission.

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