Jackson School Board Takes A Stand On A Portrait

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The portrait of Jesus hanging in Jackson Middle School will not be taken down.

Tuesday night, the Jackson City Board of Education met to reveal the future of the portrait hanging in the middle school.

After a report and recommendation from attorneys David Shaw and Hiram Sasser, the board decided to adopt a new policy for pictures of inspirational leaders protected under private speech.

The Jesus portrait that hangs in the "Hall of Honor" in Jackson Middle School, formerly Jackson High School, was placed there by the Hi-Y Club in 1947.

The Hi-Y Club was originally a Christian based organizational branch of the YMCA in Jackson.

According to the recommendation, "The Hi-Y Club and its sister organization, the Tri-Hi-Y Club, appear to identify their purpose and mission closely with the Portrait by regularly posing with the same Portrait for the Jackson High School yearbook on multiple occasions. The Portrait was hung shortly after standout Jackson High School student and Hi-Y member Frank Rice died of leukemia."

Attorney David Shaw said the conclusion was dependent on the type of speech.

"Our conclusion is that the portrait is not government speech but is in fact private speech," Shaw stated to the board.

The recommendation states that the inscription on the frame does not identify the Portrait as being a gift or donation to the school, meaning that Jackson City Schools does not own the portrait.

Members of the Hi-Y club commented in the letter of recommendation saying that they have a continued interest in having the portrait remain in the school's lobby.

"The removal of the portrait would constitute an unconstitutional act of censorship against the Club's private speech based upon its religious viewpoint in an otherwise open forum," the recommendation letter addressed.

By leaving the portrait hanging for over sixty years in the school, the Jackson City School District has created a limited public forum for student groups to hang portraits of inspirational public figures.

Bob Barber, a McArthur resident, attended the meeting to hear about the fate of the portrait. He said he was pleased with the results.

"I'm glad that they are standing up. That's what we need, we need more Americans that will stand up for what's right in this country," Barber said.

Jackson Superintendent Phil Howard says he is planning on the American Civil Liberties Union dropping their lawsuit against the school district.

Attorney Sasser said the Supreme Court has dealt with this issue in the past.

"The Supreme Court has dealt with this on multiple occasions and every time the Supreme Court has been very clear when it's not government speech," explained Sasser. "When it's private speech the government can not discriminate against its religious viewpoint."

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Jackson City Schools after discovering the display of the Jesus portrait in the middle school.

Liberty Institute and Covington and Burling LLP worked with Jackson City Schools to research the background of the portrait.