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Expelling Jesus? By: John O'Brien
West Virginia Record | Friday, June 30, 2006


CLARKSBURG - An attorney and former teacher at Bridgeport High School have filed a lawsuit over a portrait of Jesus Christ that hangs in the halls of Bridgeport High.

Harold Sklar, an attorney and parent of a former Bridgeport student, and Jacqueline McKenzie filed the lawsuit June 28 in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg against the Harrison County Board of Education, Harrison Superintendent Carl Friebel, Jr. and Bridgeport Principal Lindy Bennett.

The portrait, Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" has reportedly hung in the school for more than 30 years. It's currently located outside Bennett's office.

On June 6, a tie vote by the school board determined the portrait would stay on the wall. Having a picture of Jesus Christ in a public school had been challenged under the laws of separation of church and state.

Sklar had petitioned the board to remove the painting and has now had to move onto litigation.

The lawsuit says "The Jesus portrait has engendered conflict within the Bridgeport community for years, as school district officials have refused to remove the display and have instead resolutely retained it despite repeated complaints."

Richard B. Katskee is representing the plaintiffs. He works with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that finds the defendants to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution, an injunction ordering the defendants to remove the portrait, nominal damages and attorneys' fees.

Sklar says he first complained about the portrait in 1996 but received no response from then-Superintendent Robert Kittle and the Harrison County Board's lawyer at the time, Basil Legg.

McKenzie says she complained between 1991-1995, including when she began substitute teaching at the school in 1993.

"The Jesus portrait, which the Harrison County School District displays alone and without any broader context, is a devotional work that constitutes unconstitutional religious expression by the district," the lawsuit says. "The expenditure of public funds to maintain the Jesus portrait is unconstitutional."

The defendants have used freedom of speech as the basis for their argument.

U.S. District Court case number 1106-CV-103

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