Did a copy of a famous painting of Jesus hanging on the wall of a Kansas middle school since 1965 establish Christianity as an official state religion? Some atheists say yes and they have convinced the school board in Chanute, Kansas to remove the painting.
Someone took a picture of the painting of the head of Jesus Christ and sent it to the Freedom from Religion Foundation which then threatened the school board of Chanute, Kansas with protracted litigation if the painting was not removed. Such litigation can be financially crippling to a small school district and no matter what solid constitutional footing the school may have, it had little choice but to take the painting down.
The threat letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation makes it clear. They call the painting an “egregious violation of the First Amendment” and reminded the superintendant of a similar case in Ohio case where a school district settled and had to pay $95,000 along with legal fees. “If the District had not settled so quickly, the costs would almost certainly have been several times higher.”
The Chanute school district annual budget is roughly $31 million. Protracted litigation, not guaranteed to be successful, could run somewhere north of $3 million. No school board would be willing to protect freedom of religion that risks a 10% hit in its annual budget.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is a tiny organization of no more than 22,000 members nationwide and only 100 members in Kansas and an annual budget of roughly $3 million.
It claims on its website: “The history of Western Civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion,” with the possible exception of the ending of the slave trade, the civil rights movement in the United States, the development of human rights, and going further back, the understanding of women and children as human beings rather than the property of the paterfamilias. And perhaps a few things more.
Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse