Last week, Royster Middle School in Kansas had to take down a print of Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, which had been hanging in a hallway for decades. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had received a tip from a resident who reportedly took a photo of the painting during a school open house. The new superintendent consulted with lawyers, who said, yes, the display was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
In 2013, a middle school in Jackson, Ohio, was sued for hanging a print of the same portrait for more than half a century; the painting was removed — and moved to the high school — before eventually being taken down completely because of the legal bills the district could have faced.
The print in Kansas is being stored in “a secured location,” while the district figures out where to hang it — a few churches and groups have offered to take it. The Wichita Eagle spoke to locals who didn’t agree with the school’s decision. One woman remembered the painting from when she attended the school in 1966: “This is still the United States, under God indivisible.” Another alum said, “If you have the right to not participate” when the school shows Christmas movies or says the Pledge of Allegiance, “we have the right to keep our picture up.” One man told Reuters, “I’m sick of this … In God we trust. Now people want to come in and change all that. If they don’t like it let them leave.”
A 22-year-old said when he attended Royster, “There were only one or two evolution kids and they didn’t seem to be bothered by it.”