Royster Middle School, a public school in the small town of Chanute, Kansas, has removed a picture of Jesus from a hallway after a complaint was made by a group committed to defend the separation of church and state.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) demanded that the middle school’s superintendent Richard Proffitt remove the image, which has reportedly been hanging in the school for decades, the Wichita Eagle reported.
A lawyer for the district advised that the school was breaking the law by displaying the picture.
“We were notified and we responded to stay in compliance,” Proffitt said, according to the Wichita Eagle.
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The image was a print of a work painted by Warner Sallman, an evangelical Christian artist. But nobody seems to know precisely how long it has been in the school.
“I do know it’s been decades,” Proffitt said. “Some people who went through the system before – 30 to 40 years ago – knew it was hanging in the hallway back then. It was kind of a permanent fixture, if you will.”
The FFRF argued that as a public institution, the middle school was not permitted to display religious symbols.
“It’s nice to have people who appreciate the law and get things done (and) who follow the law even if it’s likely to be unpopular in the community,” Ryan Jayne of the FFRF said.
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“We don’t consider any constitutional violation to be petty and not worth going after,” Jayne added.
Some local residents expressed their disagreement with the move.
Samantha Barnhart, a former student at Royster Middle School, sai that non-Christian students always had the option of sitting out the pledge of allegiance or Christmas celebrations.
“If you have the right to not participate, we have the right to keep our picture up,” she told the Wichita Eagle. “Just don’t look at it.”
Jayne countered that especially in communities where religion is a major factor, such as in Chanute where there are around 30 churches in a town of 9,000, religious symbols must be removed from public buildings to protect religious minorities and atheists.
Otherwise, “[t]hey are extremely likely to remain political outsiders,” Jayne said.
FFRF took up a similar case in Jackson, Ohio, last year, the Eagle reported.
A school district was displaying the same Sallman print, but was forced to remove it and pay $95,000 in legal fees after FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit.