A Muskingum County student is challenging her high school's display of a painting depicting Jesus because two classmates were sent to the office last month for being disruptive in their support for an art-class T-shirt carrying the slogan "Gay is Okay." Allison Whaley, an 18-year-old senior at John Glenn High School in New Concord, about 70 miles east of Columbus, said she was frustrated by what she sees as her community's lack of tolerance.
A Muskingum County student is challenging her high school’s display of a painting depicting Jesus because two classmates were sent to the office last month for being disruptive in their support for an art-class T-shirt carrying the slogan “Gay is Okay.”
Allison Whaley, an 18-year-old senior at John Glenn High School in New Concord, about 70 miles east of Columbus, said she was frustrated by what she sees as her community’s lack of tolerance.
“I’m trying to break down barriers and instill a tolerance for other lifestyles, for other cultures and religions,” she said.
East Muskingum school district Superintendent Jill Johnson said art students were assigned to research several social topics and create T-shirt designs that exemplified their feelings about the topic. The designs were displayed in a case near the high school’s front entrance.
Two of the designs — “Gay is Okay” and another that said “Right to Life” — “became hot topics throughout the rest of the school,” Johnson said. “There were comments made and side conversations overheard. The decision was made to remove the T-shirts as disruptive to the educational process.” Two students were sent to the office for arguing about them.
“It seemed like, by taking it down, the school’s saying gay is not OK,” Whaley said.
She requested that the Good Shepherd painting in the school office be removed.
Johnson said the painting was donated in honor of a Latin teacher who died in front of her class in 1971 after serving the district for more than 50 years. The painting hangs in a side hallway of the office, the superintendent said, and cannot be seen by students or visitors from the front counter.
Asked if the painting, which depicts Jesus in a field with lambs, could be viewed as an endorsement of Christianity, Johnson said, “What it endorses is the life of an individual spent educating students at John Glenn High School. It’s a memorial. That’s what it endorses.”
The Jackson school district in southern Ohio agreed to remove a copy of the Head of Christ painting that had been displayed in a school there since 1947 after being sued in February by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis.
The Ohio ACLU is ready to look into the New Cincord matter, spokesman Nick Worner said. “These cases are all very fact-specific. However, it is pretty well-established case law that a religious portrait displayed by a public school is in violation of the established (separation of church and state) clause.”
Whaley said she felt that now was the time to raise the issue of the high school’s Jesus painting because the environment in her high school of nearly 600 students already was politically and socially charged.
“If we’re teaching discrimination in the schools, those students grow into our future adults, and New Concord will never change,” she said. “Displaying a ‘Gay is Okay’ T-shirt alone won’t do that. Removing a picture of Jesus won’t do it. But I think if I start to stand up, other people will, as well.”
Johnson said no decision on the painting will be made until she can discuss it with the school board. The next scheduled board meeting is Nov. 14.