Americans United And Aclu Make Offer To Settle Dispute Over Devotional Art In West Virginia School

Proposed Agreement Calls On School Officials To Refrain From Further Promotion Of Religion

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia have offered to drop a lawsuit against a West Virginia school district that had a portrait of Jesus hanging in a high school, provided that officials agree to stop promoting religion.

The devotional portrait, Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ,” has been hanging outside the principal’s office for 30 years. Recently, the portrait was stolen, although school officials have intimated that they might replace it.

Attorneys with Americans United and the ACLU made the offer to lawyers representing the Harrison County School District last night. The proposed settlement calls on education officials to agree not to display the following:

Pictures, paintings, posters, prints, statues, carvings or other renderings of Jesus;

Any devotional art or religious iconography;

Any pictures, paintings, signs or other items that favor, promote or endorse any particular faith, or any such items that favor, promote or endorse religion over non-religion;

Any display of “Great Teachers,” “Great Philosophers,” “Religious Leaders,” “Inspirational Leaders” or the like that features religious imagery, iconography or devotional artwork.

In exchange for this agreement, Americans United and the West Virginia ACLU will drop the lawsuit and agree not to request attorneys’ fees, costs or other expenses incurred in the legal action so far.

“This is a fair offer, and the Board of Education in Harrison County would be wise to accept it,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “There is no point pursuing futile litigation that the county cannot hope to win.”

County education officials are scheduled to receive a gift of new artwork this afternoon. It is unclear if the new display will be erected in the high school, but Lynn urged officials not to replace the painting with more religious artwork.

“Erecting another religious display is only going to spark new litigation,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the West Virginia ACLU. “I urge the board to get out of the business of promoting religion and return to its proper role educating the young people of Harrison County.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.