School Board Votes to Keep Jesus Portrait Hanging
Updated: Wednesday, February 13 2013, 04:25 AM EST
JACKSON -- The Jackson School Board voted Tuesday night to keep a portrait of Jesus hanging in one of its schools.
The decision came after the board met with its attorneys who have said it's student speech and not government speech. Therefore, the district will fight the ACLU in its lawsuit against the district.
The painting has been hanging in a Jackson Middle School hallway for more than 60 years, but has now drawn the attention of Madison, Wisconsin-based group Freedom from Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to the Jackson School District calling the portrait "an egregious violation of the First Amendment."
Jackson Superintendent Phil Howard told ABC 6/FOX 28 he does not believe the school is violating any laws, and calls the painting, which was donated by students, a "historical artifact [that has been] hanging here for 65 plus years."
Many members of the Jackson community share Howard's sentiment, including Jim Sturgill, who called the painting, "a part of us." Local business owner Joan Michael attended Jackson schools as a child, and believes the call for the painting's removal should encourage action among those who prefer that Jackson residents have more control over the district's schools. “We used to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and some years we said the Lord’s Prayer," Michael said. "Once again they want to take it all away, and it’s all about losing more and more rights. We need to take a stand.”
In its letter to Jackson Schools, the Freedom from Religion Foundation requested a district-conducted investigation into the painting's presence in the school, as well as a subsequent plan to resolve the issue. At least one group has approached Superintendent Howard with an offer to defend the district in the event of a legal battle over the painting.
Reporter: Ben Garbarek
Web Producer: Derek Drake