Kansas Public School Takes Down Portrait Of Jesus After Complaint

The display was called "an egregious violation of the First Amendment."

A Kansas school has taken down a portrait of Jesus Christ after being threatened with legal action, and some parents and former students aren't happy about the decision. 

Royster Middle School, a public school in the city of Chanute, had been displaying a print of Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ" since the 1950s, according to Reuters. The portrait was removed earlier this week after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the district a letter warning that the display was "an egregious violation of the First Amendment," according to an FFRF news release.

The school district's attorneys agreed.

"I conferred with legal counsel and both of them told me to be in compliance with state and federal law that we had to have it removed," Chanute Public Schools Superintendent Richard Proffitt told Reuters. 

As a result, the picture of Jesus came down.

But that decision is not sitting well with some, including a number of residents who've posted complaints on the school's Facebook page, blaming "outsiders" for the portrait's removal.

Ryan Jayne, an FFRF law clerk, told Reuters that it was a local community member who brought the portrait to the organization's attention. 

"They were afraid to bring it up themselves so they came to us," Jayne told the news agency. "In areas that are predominantly Christian, the backlash that non-Christians receive when they speak out against government endorsement of religion can be very severe." 

The Wichita Eagle reports that Chanute is a very religious community with some 30 churches serving a population of 9,200. One former student at Royster told the paper that "only one or two evolution kids" went to the school when he was there, but they didn't seem to be bothered by the picture. 

“With all the bullying that goes on in schools and how all the kids divide up into cliques, I think Jesus being there didn’t hurt a thing," the former student, 22-year-old fur trapper Cody Busby, told the Eagle. 

Another former student told the paper that non-Christian kids were allowed to skip the annual Christmas movie. 

“If you have the right to not participate, we have the right to keep our picture up,” Samantha Barnhart was quoted as saying. “Just don’t look at it.” 

The FFRF says the courts have been clear: Religious symbols don't belong in public schools.  

"The Supreme Court has stressed the importance of protecting public school students from these types of messages," FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote in a letter to the district.

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