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Picture perfect: W. Va. school right to settle lawsuit.

Education officials at Bridgeport High School in West Virginia did the right thing in voting to settle a lawsuit brought by Americans United and the ACLU of West Virginia over a portrait of Jesus that had been hanging in a school hallway.

There was no point in wasting time and taxpayer dollars to continue a losing battle. Time and again, federal courts have ruled that it's not the job of public schools to promote religion--and that's just what the display of a large devotional portrait of Christ does. The picture would have looked great in a church; it had no business being in a public school.

Public schools serve a diverse student population. The young people attending the schools and the staff members who work in them represent a variety of faiths and none. When a school or any other public institution elevates one spiritual tradition over others, it is sending a message of non-inclusion to those outside that religion.

During this controversy, some portrayed it as an issue of Christians vs. non-Christians. That is unfortunate. Many Christians oppose the appropriation of their sacred symbols by the government and understand why such actions are offensive to non-Christians. One of the plaintiffs in the West Virginia legal action is Roman Catholic. She was certainly not motivated by any animus toward Christianity.

After the settlement agreement was announced, Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group that had backed the display, groused to the media, "This lawsuit never would have seen the light of day if the First Amendment was applied today as it was intended to be by our Founding Fathers."

We are not sure which Founding Fathers McCaleb has in mind. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the First Amendment erecting a wall of separation between church and state and supported public education free of sectarian control. James Madison, widely regarded as the Father of the Constitution, strongly opposed government meddling in the doctrines of religious groups.

Had the Framers of our Constitution sought an officially Christian government, they would have left us a governing document that says that. Instead, they gave us a secular state that protects religious freedom but endorses no specific faith.

Public schools and other arms of government violate that standard when they take it upon themselves to promote religion. When they do that, they have over-stepped their bounds and must be reined in. Americans United is proud to be able to perform that function.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIALS
Publication:Church & State
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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