For years, Harold Sklar had been telling the Harrison County school board that it had no defensible position for having a portrait of Jesus hanging in the halls of Bridgeport High School.
When Sklar, an attorney, filed a lawsuit in June to have it removed, school board attorney Richard Yurko told the board the same thing.
On Friday, the board finally showed it was listening.
That’s when Harrison County school board members voted 4-1 to approve a settlement that provides it will never hang or display any item with religious content in the school.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Richard Katskee, the legal director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “It puts the focus back on the children and not on the religious divisions, and so the plaintiffs are very pleased.
Ed Brayton says a judge put the stamp of approval on the settlement. So the battle over seeing vs. not seeing Jesus on the high school wall is over. Right? Well, sorta. Maybe.
There seem to be a couple of different ways to parse the decision, but I’ll leave that to better legal minds than mine. The reason this is of interest to me is because I posted about it earlier, when the stories of the Dobrich and Smalkowski families were making headlines and Barak Obama was admonishing Democrats and liberals to be more “faith-friendly” and not so quick to man the battle stations at “every mention of God.”
And now it looks like I may have to swallow Obama as the next Democratic nominee. After all, a party seeing to reach out to evangelicals would do worse than to take a look at Obama, who will have at least as much governing experience by 2008 as Dubya did in 2000, especially at a time when evangelicals are lamenting the hijacking of their movement by politics and maybe even abandoning the Republicans. And the Democrats are already staking out the middle to win over these voters on “bread and butter” Democratic issues. (Maybe this could be their playbook?)
So it seems like a good time to ask some questions. Should a portrait of Jesus hang in a public school? Why? What message does it send or should it send to religious minority students and their families? How about non-religious students and their families? Should a non-religious or religious minority student still expect to be dealt with fairly if she/he has to walk past a portrait of Jesus to go into the principals office? (As a gay man, for that matter, should I expect to be treated fairly in the courthouse if I have to walk past a monument to the ten commandments in order to get in?)
Does freedom of religion also imply freedom from religion? Or is a certain amount of deference due to the majority faith? If so, why? Does the religious majority have a right to see Jesus on the high school wall? Does the minority have the right not to see Jesus on the high school wall? Which trumps which?
And finally, do they just need more burritos?