Back in July of 2006 I posted about a West Virginia school being bullied by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to get a local public school to remove its picture of Jesus that had hung there since the group believed that it provided an establishment of religion in a public school.
And now, the outcome of the litigation, provided by the Wall Street Journal:
The two sides recently settled the case: The school has agreed not to display the portrait but may use textbooks and other curriculum-related materials that reproduce it. Although such a settlement sounds amicable and fair, the case itself remains troubling and illustrates some of the tactics used to push religion out of the public square.
One fact that made the claim of church-state violation so odd in this case was the time-line: The disputed portrait had been hanging in the school for a long time. In 1969, a retiring guidance counselor, who had the portrait in his office, gave it as a farewell gift to the school’s principal (now also retired), who decided to hang it outside his office. Thus students, parents, teachers, employees and visitors to Bridgeport High School apparently suffered from this violation of the First Amendment for 37 years.
The journal goes on to list who started the suit, and ponders why the portrait of Jesus must go, but two statues to Buddha can remain. They also point out what I think is the most insidious part of all of this:
There is another aspect of this case that deserves attention. In federal lawsuits against state officials that allege violations of constitutional rights, defendants are required to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees if they lose the suit. In this case, Americans United explicitly warned the Bridgeport school board that, if it lost the case, it would be paying over a substantial amount of money to its own lawyers and those of the ACLU. Thus there is a strong–and unjustly one-sided–financial incentive on the part of many public institutions to cave in to the demands of groups such as the ACLU and Americans United and settle such suits.
Although there was a bill to address this, it never passed. Will the new Democratic Congress fix the injustice? It has yet to be determined.