Ohio Middle School to Keep Portrait of Jesus for Now

Jesus will keep hanging around the halls of an Ohio middle school, for now, despite a federal lawsuit requesting his removal.

The portrait of Jesus, which has hung in the same place for 6 years, first came under fire Jan. 2 when Jackson City Schools Superintendent Phil Howard received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization had received "a disturbing report" about the portrait, along with a photo showing it hanging in the school, the letter said.

Then the ACLU got involved, filing suit last week with another group in the U.S. district court on behalf of an unidentified student and two parents in the school district.

So far, the district has not wavered in its support for the portrait. After a 4-0 vote on Tuesday that drew nothing but applause from the dozens gathered in an elementary school gym, the board announced it must protect its students' right to free speech. 

Christian-based service group Hi-Y club, which commissioned the portrait in 1947, is its rightful owner, not the school, the board said. Its display is part of a "limited public forum," which allows other student clubs to hang portraits appropriate to their organizations.

"We're in a predicament where we have to balance things," Howard said after the meeting. "We can't make that kind of endorsement (of religion) as a government entity. But we also can't infringe upon the rights of our student groups and our students."

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