Monday, August 21, 2006

Painting of Jesus Is Stolen From School, but Legal Fight Goes On

August 21, 2006

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va., Aug. 20 — A legal battle over a painting of Jesus hanging in a high school here is continuing, even though the painting was stolen last week.

Two civil liberties groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, filed suit in June to remove the painting, “Head of Christ,” saying it sent the message that the public school endorsed Christianity as its official religion.

The Harrison County Board of Education said last week that it would fight the lawsuit, promising not to spend public money in defending itself. The Christian Freedom Fund raised more than $150,000 for a defense fund, including $6,700 raised by students at the school. The board selected the Alliance Defense Fund, a national legal organization founded in part by the Christian group Focus on the Family, was selected as its lead counsel.

“We have decided to step up to the plate here,” said a school board member, Mike Queen. “This is important to us and reflects what our community wants in the schools.”

Communities across the country are fighting to keep Christian monuments, crosses and portraits in place, encouraged by the Bush administration’s conservative appointments to the United States Supreme Court, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas and an expert in separation of church and state cases.

“Schools are considered the most sensitive location because with children, personal matters like religion are to be left to parents, not government,” Mr. Laycock said.

“I think what you’re dealing with is a small group of rabble-rousers that only want to live with people who live as they do,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of West Virginia. “My answer to that is go to a private school, go to a parochial school; don’t go to a public school.”

Pattae Kinney, a parent in Bridgeport, a town of 8,000 people and 40 churches, says she does not understand why her daughter’s school is being singled out.

“My take on this is that our country was founded on Christian principles,” Ms. Kinney said. “It’s on our money — ‘In God We Trust’ — it’s in our Pledge of Allegiance, it’s a part of our lives. I know our community, and we’re very in favor of keeping this painting.”


“My take on this is that our country was founded by toothless forefathers,” Ms. Kinney said. “There's sugar in our cupboards - 'By God it's good stuff!' - there's chewing tobacco filling every jaw, it’s a part of our lives. I know our community, and we’re very in favor of keeping this community toothless.” There... Fixed that for ya, Pattae!