A West Virginia high school is being sued over the presence of a portrait of Jesus that has hung outside the principle’s office for over 30 years. Normally my libertarian bent would defer to the locals to figure this one out.

“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.

I agree with this statement for the most part and it seems to be the meat of the plaintiff’s argument. However, I don’t think the plaintiff would accept a plaque next to the portrait saying something like “Jesus Christ, 3AD – 33AD. Noted philosopher.” Me thinks their endgoal is the removal of the portrait altogether. That’s fine.

BUT!

One of the talking heads from the ACLU was on one of the morning news shows and changed the dynamic and very own context of the plaintiff’s argument (intentionally?). According to the ACLU this portrait promotes Christianity. This isn’t the same rhetoric. To wit:

  • Expression – The act of expressing, conveying, or representing in words, art, music, or movement; a manifestation
  • Promotion – Encouragement of the progress, growth, or acceptance of something; furtherance

I can accept the expression argument in the context of seperation of Church and State. But the notion that a portrait — or cross, or menorah, or flag, etc — promotes anything is preposterous. I’m sure there are hundreds of symbols in a school designed to promote that get little attention and fail in their efforts. You could stick a giant book on the wall but that won’t promote reading (especially in today’s education culture).

I’m assuming the ACLU is using this tactic (as it usually does) of making the “promotion” argument instead of the “expression” argument because the courts have usually defended the latter. Luckily the courts are smarter to just listen to what’s presented in front of them and not what the ACLU spins in the media.

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