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Painting of Jesus Coming Down Under Pressure

A recently controversial painting of Jesus that had hung in school hallways in Jackson since 1947 is coming down.

Jackson City Schools officials believed the law was on their side in defending the continued display of the painting against a lawsuit that said it is an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

But today's decision to order the removal of the Jesus painting came down to the district's bottom line.

The district voluntarily ordered the removal of the portrait out of fear that it could be saddled with paying significant legal fees and costs if it lost the lawsuit brought by two parents and a student.

"Our insurance company denied coverage, and we cannot risk taxpayer money at this time," Superintendent Phil Howard wrote in a statement tonight.

"We are ordering the Hi-Y Club (owner of the painting) to take down the portrait to avoid the court ordering us to do so," Howard wrote. "We understand that may lead to a lawsuit from the Hi-Y Club, but we had little choice in the matter."

Robert Eisnaugle, adviser to the Hi-Y Club, said he wasn't told of the district's decision tonight. The painting was still hanging tonight, Howard said.

Hiram Sasser, litigation director for the Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas, nonprofit group that promotes religious freedom, said the district was exposed to liability for large legal fees if its defense of the painting failed.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which represent the suing parents and student, are seeking legal fees and costs as part of the lawsuit.

ACLU of Ohio spokesman Nick Worner said the district voluntarily agreed to remove the Jesus portrait during a U.S. District Court hearing this afternoon concerning a restraining order seeking its removal until a decision was issued in the case.

The Hi-Y Club had displayed the painting of Jesus in what is now Jackson Middle School since 1947. The club recently asserted its right to move the painting and display it in the current high school.

The school district had said that the portrait of Jesus was private student speech displayed in a "limited public forum" and was not school-endorsed "governmental speech."

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