Americans United Succeeds In Challenge To Religious Display At West Virginia School

Watchdog Group Lauds School Officials For Agreeing Not To Display Picture Of Jesus Or Other Unconstitutional Religious Displays

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today lauded a West Virginia public school board for agreeing not to display a portrait of Jesus or other unconstitutional devotional art at its high school.

This morning, the Harrison County School Board voted 4-1 to settle a lawsuit brought by Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of West Virginia over the long-time display of Warner Sallman’s famous “Head of Christ” portrait at Bridgeport High School.

“We commend the school board for ensuring that all Bridgeport students will feel welcome at their school, regardless of their religious background,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This settlement sends a message to public school officials all across the country that they should respect the diversity of their students and not take sides on religious matters.”

Americans United and the ACLU brought the lawsuit earlier this year after school officials rebuffed requests of parents, teachers and students to remove the portrait. The civil liberties groups argued that public schools should not promote one religion over others. The lawsuit cited federal court precedent that found unconstitutional similar religious displays in public high schools.

After the Sklar v. Harrison County Board of Education lawsuit was lodged, the portrait of Jesus was stolen from the high school. Although the artwork has not been recovered, some school board members had suggested replacing it with another copy of the print.

The settlement today ensures that the school board will not allow a display of Sallman’s “Head of Christ” or unconstitutional displays of “any pictures, paintings, posters, prints, statues, carvings, or other items with religious content” at Bridgeport High School.

“This is a victory for the children of Bridgeport,” said Americans United Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee. “We have avoided a lengthy and expensive lawsuit that would have been detrimental to the community and school system. This means that school funds can be put toward education, not litigation.”

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.