A city school superintendent in Ohio is refusing to remove a religious portrait of Jesus from a school building without a court order because he says it reflects the "culture of our community."

Jackson City School District Superintendent Phil Howard told WCMH-TV that the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had sent him a letter claiming that it was illegal and an "egregious violation of the the First Amendment" to hang the portrait in a public school.

The large portrait, which was given a prominent position above a staircase in the school's Hall of Honors, was reportedly donated by a Christian-affiliated student group and has been on display since 1947.

"As you are certainly aware, the display of religious messages in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," FFRF explained to Howard in the written complaint. "It is illegal for Jackson Middle School to post religious images on the walls of its school. If true, the District must remove the picture of Jesus at once."

Howard, however, insisted to WSAZ that it was "really a reach" for anyone to assert that the photo excludes non-Christians.

"I have done some research, and because it was a student led presentation, it is permissible as far as I am concerned," the superintendent said.

According to WSAZ, over 11,000 people had joined the "Citizens of Jackson County for Jesus" Facebook group, which was created by Jon Hensler to oppose FFRF's request.

Hensler wept openly when the TV station asked him why the Facebook page had become so popular.

"You wonder in today's world what our children and our grandchildren are going to have," he said, choking up. "And it's good to see that there's still people in our community that are willing to stand up and speak out for Christ."

Hensler insisted that the spirit of Jesus would remain even if the portrait was removed because "Christ lives within us, we know that."

A massive turnout was expected at Tuesday night's Jackson City School Board meeting.

Watch this video from WSAZ, broadcast Jan. 7, 2013.

WSAZ NewsChannel 3

(h/t: Friendly Atheist)