A Kansas middle school is at the center of a mushrooming controversy over the removal of a painting of Jesus from a public hallway.
According to the Wichita Eagle, the print of Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ” has been hanging in the hall at Royster Middle School in Chanute for decades. However, after a national church and state separation group complained, school officials took the painting down last week.
Resident Erika Semey attended the school a decade ago.
“Oh man, it’s getting bad,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong with this world. Not enough people have Christ in their lives.”
Chanute has a mere 9,200 inhabitants, but 30 churches. The decision to remove the Christian image from a public school has rankled many residents.
Chanute's school superintendent Richard Proffitt said that he acted quickly when he received a notification from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that the image of Christ displayed in a public school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“We were notified and we responded to stay in compliance,” Proffitt said.
Ryan Jayne of FFRF told the Eagle that his organization has been pleased with the school district's response.
“It’s nice to have people who appreciate the law and get things done (and) who follow the law even if it’s likely to be unpopular in the community,” Jayne said.
FFRF has worked with Proffitt before after a complaint last school year about the Gideons handing out Christian Bibles on high school campuses. The evangelical group has since been banned from handing out materials to public school students in Chanute.
Some residents, however, see the removal of the painting as a sign of society's slide into moral decay and degeneracy.
“Nobody else in the school seemed to be bothered by it,” said 22-year-old fur-trapper Cody Busby, a self-described "church kid" who attended Royster. “There were only one or two 'evolution kids' and they didn’t seem to be bothered by it."
“With all the bullying that goes on in schools and how all the kids divide up into cliques, I think Jesus being there didn’t hurt a thing,” Busby continued.
Samantha Barnhart, who also attended Royster said that if people don't want to look at Jesus' face, they don't have to.
“If you have the right to not participate, we have the right to keep our picture up,” she said. “Just don’t look at it.”