JACKSON, OH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) have settled a lawsuit against the Jackson City School District over the continued display of a religious portrait on school property.
The agreement includes a consent decree mandating that the portrait be permanently removed from school property as well as a financial settlement requiring the school to pay the plaintiffs a combination of damages and legal fees totaling nearly six figures.
“Throughout this case, school administrators were advised that this religious display was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and that their repeated failure to remove the portrait would be costly.” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “It is unfortunate that they made this outcome inevitable.”
The portrait originally hung in Jackson Middle School, but was moved to the high school after the ACLU and FFRF filed the lawsuit. The school attempted to argue that the portrait was part of a “limited public forum” but eventually agreed in court to remove it from the school, reportedly to avoid “risking taxpayer money.”
The two sides then began negotiating a formal settlement, but those talks stalled when it was discovered that the portrait had never actually been removed from the school. Instead, it was moved to an art closet, and then brought out for a prayer meeting on the school lawn which was attended by school faculty and administrators.
This violation of the court agreement prompted another round of legal filings by both sides, delaying the settlement and increasing legal fees, all of which was unnecessary.
“This case could have ended before it began if the school had simply acknowledged that it is not the government’s place to endorse one specific religion in a public school that children are legally required to attend,” said Hardiman. “This is a basic constitutional principle backed up by decades of case law. We hope that other public schools will spare themselves such lengthy and costly legal fights in the future.”