A constitutional fight is now in play in Jackson, Ohio: The city's school district decided, Tuesday night, that it would fight the American Civil Liberties Union in court over a 66-year-old portrait of Jesus that hangs in the hallway of a middle school.
"The school board of this southeastern Ohio community asserted at its meeting last night that Hi-Y, a student club, owns the painting — not the school district — and that its display is legal as 'private speech.'
"A lawsuit filed on Thursday in federal court by an unidentified student and two parents contends the painting of Jesus is an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity."
The ACLU along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the school, which they say has displayed the portrait near the school's entrance for years.
They argue that the portrait violates the Establishment Clause as well as the state constitution.
"It boggles the mind that in 2013, a public school superintendent and school board would not understand that a devotional painting of Jesus, called 'The Head of Christ,' — identical to millions hanging in churches and Sunday school classrooms around the country — may not be posted at the entrance of a middle school," FFRF co-president Dan Barker said in a statement.
Local television station 10TV reports that the Liberty Institute, whose goal is to "defend and restore religious liberty across America," helped the district craft its legal argument.
Essentially, they're arguing that the painting belongs to a student club and as such it's protected speech. Just like students could post portraits of other inspirational figures, they could post a portrait of Jesus is their thinking.
A reporter asked if students could post a portrait of the prophet Muhammad.
"Let me give you a perfect example, the French Club could put up a picture of the Eiffel tower," Phil Howard, Jackson City Schools superintendent, told 10TV.
Update at 5:43 p.m. ET. Portrait Of Muhammad:
An earlier version of this post quoted Howard as saying the students could hang a portrait of Muhammad. This was based on web text posted on 10TV's website. The video embedded above shows that it was a reporter who asked Howard whether students could post that kind of portrait.