‘Head of Christ’ at Bridgeport High School (West Virginia Leader)

A picture depicting Jesus Christ that has hung in a West Virginia high school’s halls for 30 years is the target of a lawsuit by an attorney and former teacher.

Harold Sklar, parent of a former student at Bridgeport High School in Clarksburg, W.Va., petitioned the Harrison County Board of Education to have the portrait removed, contending it violates the so-called separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution, reports the West Virginia Record legal journal.

Following a tie-vote by the school board June 6 that determined the picture would stay, Sklar filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg against the district board, Harrison Superintendent Carl Friebel, Jr. and Bridgeport Principal Lindy Bennett.

Sklar is represented by Washington-based public-interest group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia also is a party in the suit.

“Any portrait of Jesus in a public high school sends the unmistakable message that that school is endorsing Christianity as the official religion of that school,” said Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

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.”

Warner Sallman’s ‘Head of Christ’

The portrait is the familiar “Head of Christ,” created by Warner Sallman in 1941.

Sklar says he received no response from school officials after his first complaint was filed in 1996.

“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.”

School officials defend their position on the basis of freedom of speech.

But school board President Sally Cann said the school didn’t have to keep the painting to profess its Christian values. She wanted it removed because she expected a lawsuit, the Charleston Gazette reported.

The Charleston paper said debate over the painting has cause unrest in the community.

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