ACLU of West Virginia and Americans United Seek Removal of High School Portrait of Jesus

June 28, 2006 12:00 am

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CHARLESTON, WV – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked a court to order the removal of a large portrait of Jesus prominently displayed outside the principal’s office at Bridgeport High School, saying that the display is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

“The Constitution’s ban on government endorsement of religion is good for both government and religion. It keeps religion free and allows government to represent us all,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia. “In violating that ban, Bridgeport High School is interfering with the right of all students to freely express their religious beliefs.”

The current debate dates to a March meeting of the Harrison County Board of Education, when a local resident, Harold Sklar, submitted a formal request that the portrait be taken down. However, this is not the first time the display has been questioned. Sklar had asked for the portrait’s removal several times over a 10 year period, but his requests were ignored.

Schneider noted that even if the portrait reflected the beliefs of a majority of individuals, the United States Supreme Court ruled unequivocally in 1943 in a landmark West Virginia case that the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to ensure that fundamental liberties like freedom of religion are not subject to the whims of a majority.
“School officials are flouting the First Amendment principle of church-state separation and in the process providing students a shoddy civics lesson,” said Richard Katskee, Assistant Legal Director of Americans United.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, seeks to remove the portrait and obtain damages as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Sklar is represented by Katskee and Aram Schvey of Americans United, and Terri Baur of the ACLU of West Virginia Foundation.

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