ACLU Sues W. Va. School for Hanging Painting of Jesus

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," June 29, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Two civil liberties groups have filed suit against a West Virginia school board for failure to remove a picture of Jesus Christ that's hung at a local high school for more than 30 years. The two groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the ACLU, say the head of Christ gives the message that the school endorses Christianity as its official religion.

Joining us now is the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Barry Lynn.

Barry, welcome back to our show. I'm just wondering, what would be the reason for putting up this picture?

REV. BARRY LYNN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Well there's only one reason, and that's to promote Christianity. This is a very famous photo — picture of Jesus. It's reportedly got 500 million copies of this picture available. Everybody recognizes it as the quintessential portrait of Jesus. Now, we don't know if it's historically accurate.

COLMES: If you put a picture of Mohammed or some other religious figure, I wonder how many Christians who support this would have a problem with that.

LYNN: Well, they'd have a huge problem with that and, of course, it is promotion. I mean, if you wanted to put up Ann Coulter's book cover in front of the principal's office, you'd be promoting Ann Coulter. This way, you're obviously promoting...

COLMES: That should definitely be illegal.

LYNN: Well, you know, I'm such a First Amendment freak I probably wouldn't object to that.

COLMES: That was a joke.

LYNN: I understand that.

COLMES: The school is the arm of the state.

LYNN: Of course it is.

COLMES: You're claiming, of course, this plays into the establishment of religion when the school is an arm of the state, decides to put up the likeness of a religious figure which is a devotional painting in this case.

LYNN: That's right. This is a devotional artwork. That is to say it was intended to take believers and to impress people who may not be believers into an acceptance of Jesus as the Christ.

And of course, Christians do believe that this is a picture — or many Christians believe — that this is a representation of the savior, Jesus Christ. It is not a political leader. It is not a philosopher. It's not a teacher. It's a religious figure certainly to Christianity.

COLMES: What are you going to say when they accuse you of being anti-Christian, hating Christ, hating what this country is founded on? Because those are the attacks you'll get if you want to stand for that impenetrable wall that's been talked about by our forefathers.

LYNN: Well, the important thing about it is that religion flourishes in this country more so than in any other country, precisely because government doesn't take sides. We don't normally see in public schools portraits of Jesus. We don't have readings from the Christian Bible.

The kind of transmission of values, including the values of Christianity, are normally done in families and by churches, just as they're done in other religious institutions and other families about our religions.

Government is supposed to be neutral. It's not supposed to be hostile. There's no censorship here. There's no hostility here. They're just people, in our case...

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Barry, you say we don't normally see in public schools. There usually isn't Bible reading. Usually.

LYNN: Right.

HANNITY: Well, that's because of intolerant leftists and liberals like yourself. Because it was, prior to the court decisions, two of them in the early 1960s, we did have regular Bible readings in public schools.


HANNITY: They did say the Lord's Prayer and pray in public schools.

LYNN: In some.

HANNITY: And then intolerant people like yourself came in and changed all of that.

LYNN: No, we're the tolerant people, Sean. No, we're the people who say nobody ought to feel like a second-class citizen because he or she doesn't agree with the prayer that's prayed.

HANNITY: The fact is...

LYNN: By the way, the states have already eliminated those prayers long before the Supreme Court even got into it.

HANNITY: The fact is, prior to those court decisions, we did pray in school every day. Kids did.

LYNN: Some.

HANNITY: We did have Bible reading in public schools.

LYNN: Some.

HANNITY: And there was no theocracy. What is your great fear, Barry? What is your great worry about a picture of Jesus? Can you explain that?

LYNN: Yes. The great fear is that anybody who is not a Christian who walks past that poster...

HANNITY: What's going to happen to them?

LYNN: They're going to listen, I better get with the program of Christianity because my principal says this is the religion you ought to be.

HANNITY: That picture is going to force them to feel that they better become a Christian. That picture is going to, really?

LYNN: That picture is one of the most powerful images that that child sees in that school. Every visitor to the school sees it. Now let me ask you this: Do you think images have no power?

HANNITY: No, what I'm saying to you...

LYNN: You're on television. You know that it has power. It makes people feel like they don't belong in the school.


HANNITY: If you just listen for a second you may learn something. I actually support teaching comparative religions in school. I went to Catholic schools and we had the teaching of comparative religions.

And the problem her is, look, I'll agree with you can have all the intolerance you want and you can hate all the pictures you want and remove all the pictures, remove the Bible. I ask you just one thing in return: Stop forcing American children into failed government schools. Start living up to your credo of being pro-choice, and let parents choose to leave your failing schools.

If you join me in that and let the schools decide and the parents decide where to send their kids. Would you at least agree in that?

LYNN: No. That's an entirely different issue.

HANNITY: No, it isn't.

LYNN: The power of this image is the power that says to young people, listen, this is the official credo of this school.

Now you went to a Catholic school. That's perfectly appropriate. I taught for a couple of years in a public school.

HANNITY: Barry, our public schools.

LYNN: It's appropriate to have pictures of Jesus in a Catholic school.

HANNITY: For the sake of our audience, for the better part of this country's history we did have Bible reading in school. Not only now do we — there's no Bible reading. There's no tolerance for any mention of Christianity in our school, but now our schools are failing our kids. And our kids aren't getting an education. They can't read or write.

LYNN: That's not true. That's absolutely not true.

HANNITY: They're not preparing for adulthood, because people like you, who say you're pro-choice are anything but pro-choice. And you're anything but tolerant.

LYNN: Sean, we heard that argument. We heard the argument. The point is the schools of this country have always been good for some students, have failed other students. That's not the problem.

COLMES: Hey, Barry, let's make a deal. They become pro-choice for abortion, we become pro-choice on schools. Thank you very much for being with us, Barry.

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