ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Jackson City Schools Over Religious Portrait in Middle School

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
February 7, 2013 12:33 pm

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It is Unconstitutional for a Public School to Endorse or Promote a Religion

February 7, 2013

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JACKSON, OH – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Jackson City School District, seeking the removal of a religious portrait currently on display in Jackson Middle School.

“The school system was warned weeks ago that this religious display is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and must be removed.” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “They have chosen to continue displaying the portrait, making legal action necessary.”

The U.S. District Court complaint was filed on behalf of a child who attends Jackson Middle School, as well as two parents who currently have children attending school in the district. The anonymous student self-identifies as a Christian, but feels the portrait portrays the Christian faith in a way that distorts his or her beliefs. The other plaintiffs claim the portrait interferes with the way they have chosen to teach their children about morality and religion by promoting one belief system above all others.

“Religious belief, or the lack thereof, is often a very private and very closely held family tradition,” said Hardiman. “The government has no place interfering in these matters by promoting one specific set of beliefs in a school that children are legally required to attend.”

School officials have argued that the portrait in question was given to the school as a gift from a student organization and that it has been on display for many years. Nevertheless, courts across the country have ordered many other schools to remove similar religious displays, some of which had been on display for over 50 years.

“Separation of church and state is a bedrock constitutional principle and one of our nation’s oldest traditions,” said Hardiman. “The fact that this portrait has been on display for many years does not change the fact that the school system is violating the Constitution by inserting themselves in matters of religion.”

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