Public school district agrees to pay $95,000 settlement after ACLU sues over Jesus picture
JACKSON, Ohio, October 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Ohio school district has agreed to pay five anonymous complainants $3,000 each in damages, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin, a combined $80,000 in court costs after being sued for keeping an image of Jesus Christ on school property, reports the Columbus Dispatch.
At issue was a painting of Jesus that had previously been displayed as part of a “Hall of Honor” at the Jackson City School District’s middle school, alongside images of other of famous historical figures. The image had been given to the school district as a gift by the high school “Hi-Y” student club in 1947, and hung there until this February. That was when the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued on behalf of two students and three parents who argued the painting amounted to an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity.
At the time, the school board responded by returning the picture to the student-run Hi-Y club, which chose to display it at the high school, which district officials said they had the right to do. District Superintendent Phil Howard vowed to fight the lawsuit, telling the school board, “A lot of things are permissible so long as they are student-led or student-initiated. I’m certainly not going to run down there and take the picture down because some group from Madison, Wisconsin, who knows nothing about the culture of our community or why the picture is even there, wants me to take it down.”
But when the school district’s insurance company said it would not reimburse them for costs incurred battling the lawsuit, district officials decided they had to give in.
In April, the district had the image of Jesus removed from public view. But the plaintiffs pressed on with their lawsuit, complaining that the picture could still potentially be seen by anyone who entered the art closet at the local high school, where the picture had been stored away. They alleged that to have an image of Jesus anywhere on school property was offensive and unconstitutional. They were also upset that the image had been displayed on the high school lawn during a National Day of Prayer service in May.
Now, the district has agreed to the $95,000 settlement. The picture of Jesus will be removed from school district property entirely and stored offsite.
The settlement papers state that the district admits no wrongdoing and simply wishes to avoid incurring any further legal costs. The district also agreed not to reveal the identities of the five complainants, who are referred to in court documents simply as “Sam Doe.”
“According to our legal counsel, it made more sense under the circumstances to resolve the matter, because further litigation could have exposed the district to a much larger claim by the ACLU for their legal fees,” Superintendent Howard told the Jackson County Daily. “Our attorneys felt like this was the best case scenario for the district because the legal fees were mounting by the day.”
Howard said the school district’s insurance company, not taxpayers, will foot the bill for the $95,000 payout.
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