|Jesus as Jackson City students see him.|
Then, in early January, one person anonymously wrote to the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Wisconsin and mentioned the picture, which was a long-ago gift from a student organization.
That led to a request the picture be removed and a crowded, animated meeting of the local school board to discuss it.
"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," Howard told a television station.
He later addressed a group of 300 people who attended the recent board meeting, saying that the picture has "has historical significance. It hasn't hurt anyone.” That to him, made the picture legal.
|The preamble to the Constitution|
The ACLU agrees. "Separation of church and state is one of our nation's oldest traditions," a spokesman said in a prepared statement. "The founders of our country recognized that public institutions need to be welcoming, inclusive places for all citizens, regardless of their faith or creed… 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."
Courts have definitely taken the ACLU’s side in the past. For example, a high school in Rhode Island had to take down a prayer banner that had been installed in 1963. The student who filed the complaint won a $40,000 ACLU scholarship for her efforts.
In the Christian world, there is only one “true” religion. In reality, there are many religions. They are all true to someone. Most Americans are Christian, of course. In this country, 78.4 percent of the population is Protestant or Catholic, with a smattering of Mormon, Jehovah Witnesses, and Greek and Russian Orthodox, among other sects.
That leaves 1.7 percent Jewish, .7 percent Buddhist and .6 percent Muslim, according to the latest report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
|Heaven to atheists?|
The real point is that a public school, which caters to all faiths, should not place a painting that endorses one belief. It’s as simple as that.
If you want a painting of Jesus to admire, carry it in your pocket or purse, get it tattooed on your body. Nothing wrong with these options. You want to pray to Jesus? That’s great. Go ahead. Just don’t do it over the loudspeaker or in a public assembly where everyone else is forced to participate.
Religion is a private matter. That’s an important lesson Jackson High School and every other public institution needs to learn.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1