Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools

Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools involved a student’s request that his school remove a portrait of Jesus Christ, which had been hanging in the hallway outside the principal’s office for thirty years. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held the display unconstitutional. The student argued that the painting violated the Establishment Clause because it constituted government endorsement of Christianity; there were no other portraits or displays in the hallway that depicted individuals or artifacts from any other religion. The school argued that the portrait of Jesus had meaning to all religions, and was not inherently a symbol of Christianity. The court noted that, while Jesus may have meaning to other religious groups, he is central only to the Christian faith. Thus, the display of his portrait had a proselytizing effect that some non-believers might find offensive. Applying the test developed by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court found that the picture conveyed the message that the state preferred Christianity to other religions because the school did not include displays of figures significant to any other faith. Further, the school did not provide any purported secular purpose for the painting. Thus, the school’s display of the portrait violated the Establishment Clause.