Jesus portrait taken down after legal battle - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Jesus portrait taken down after legal battle

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A portrait of Jesus had been hanging in Jackson City Schools since 1947, until the superintendent ordered it removed Wednesday morning during first period.

Earlier this year, the district was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The groups, acting on behalf of two parents and a student, claimed the portrait was an endorsement of religion in a public school.

"We really had no choice in the matter," says Superintendent Phil Howard, who says he was willing to continue fighting, but the price of a federal lawsuit would break the school district.

Howard says the district's insurance provider would not cover the expenses that go along with the lawsuit, which could have been a lengthy affair.

"We couldn't risk the taxpayer money," says Howard.

Many taxpayers tell 13 News it was the right move, even though their opinions on the portrait have not changed.

"I'm for it being in the school, but I am not really religious," says alumnus, Justin Sickles. "It's more of just a history type of thing."

History, or not, Margaret Cochran, whose children went to Jackson City Schools, says the portrait needed to come down.

"It's nothing against the picture, or against Jesus. It's just a matter of separating a public school from religion."

Superintendent Howard says he has received hundreds of letters and emails from around the country, and that most of them were in support of his efforts to keep the portrait displayed.

He also says after the district was forced to take this action, the Hi-Y student organization, who originally donated the portrait, could file suit.

The portrait was a gift, and that was one reason Howard used in defending the portrait being hung in a public school.

The portrait was moved from the middle school to the high school, after the Hi-Y organization requested the move.

That did not keep civil rights groups from pursuing legal action against the district.

A spokeswoman from the Freedom From Religion Foundation says they will cease further legal action if the portrait stays down.