Removal Of School’s Religious Pictures Sparks Ill. Conflict

An Illinois pastor is working to force a public school to replace religious pictures that officials had removed to comply with constitutional mandates.

In mid July, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to school officials in Anna urging them to take down three portraits of Jesus from the main hallway of the Anna Junior High School.

Citing federal court precedent, Americans United said the religious pictures’ display in the junior high school was “grossly unconstitutional.”

“Government neutrality in matters of religion is particularly important in the context of public schools,” wrote Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, “because students are legally required to attend school – and are thus a captive audience – and because schoolchildren are considerably more impressionable than adults.”

Within a month of receiving the letter, school officials placed the paintings of Jesus in storage.

Superintendent Bob O’Dell told the Southern Illinoisan, a Carbondale newspaper, that its attorney said the pictures raise constitutional problems.

“Our legal counsel advised us we didn’t have a choice,” he said.

The Rev. Al Campbell, a United Methodist pastor in Anna, told the newspaper that he had gathered 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for the school board to order the replacement of the religious pictures. He also said that the Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right group, had offered its legal help.

But Campbell added that “it’s too early” to say whether a lawsuit would be lodged against the school.

“We want to do things in steps, in phases,” he said. “Right now we’re basically a group of churches, a group of local citizens who think we ought to stand for what we believe in.”