Religious Liberty Press Release

01.10.13

ACLU of Ohio Warns Jackson City Schools On Religious Portrait in Middle School

Public Schools are Not Permitted to Endorse or Promote a Religion

Jackson, OH – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Jackson City School District, warning school officials that a religious portrait of Jesus currently hanging in the Jackson Middle School is unconstitutional.

“The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits government institutions from displaying religious imagery unless that display is for a secular purpose,” said ACLU of Ohio Litigation Coordinator and Staff Attorney Drew Dennis. “In this case, there are no other historical or religious figures displayed, making it very clear that the portrait is non-secular and meant to endorse one religion in particular.”

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, or alter similar religious displays, some of which had been on display for over 50 years.

“Separation of church and state is one of our nation’s oldest traditions,” said Dennis. “The founders of our country recognized that public institutions need to be welcoming, inclusive places for all citizens, regardless of their faith or creed. Public school displays that advance one particular religious tradition are neither welcoming, nor inclusive for those who may have other beliefs.”

“The fact that this portrait has been hanging for many years does not change the fact that it promotes one set of religious beliefs at the expense of all others,” added Dennis. “Jackson City Schools should take this opportunity to remove or alter their middle school display to better reflect and respect the diversity of the modern community.”