Mass. Father Defends Claim That Boy, 8, Was Sent Home From School for Jesus Drawing

A Massachusetts father is standing by claims that his 8-year-old son was sent home from school after the boy drew a stick figure of Jesus on a crucifix.

Chester Johnson, 40, said his son did indeed draw the picture circulated to reporters and that Taunton School District officials later said was not the same drawing discovered by the second-grade student's teacher earlier this month.

"I swear to God, on my grave, you could kill me if I'm lying," Johnson, 40, told "I wouldn't make nothing up. This is the holiday season — I don't have time for that."

Johnson, who said he works for the Taunton School District as a part-time custodian, told that his hours have been cut since the controversy made headlines locally and nationally.

"It's put a toll on me," Johnson said. "Now I'm trying to get a transfer."

Late Wednesday, The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization based in Virginia, issued a statement on behalf of Johnson citing the "psychological damage" to the boy's family.

“This is a case of overreaction by school officials,” said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “[The boy's] drawing was simply a reflection of something he saw at a Christmas light show. The psychological damage to this family is appalling, and it is a clear-cut violation of their constitutional rights.”

Whitehead called on school officials to arrange for the boy to be transferred to an out-of-district school and for his parents to be compensated with associated transportation costs.

Taunton School District officials did not immediately respond on Wednesday to Johnson's claims, including whether he was employed by the district.

In a statement to Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, Taunton School District Superintendent Julie Hackett said that Johnson and his wife were scheduled to meet with school officials at 9 a.m., but the couple did not show.

School officials said Tuesday that the boy was not suspended due to the sketch.

"This report is totally inaccurate, and the student was never suspended," a statement read.

The school claims the incident took place nearly two weeks ago and says the incident was handled "appropriately."

School officials also denied Johnson's claim that students were asked to draw something that reminded them of Christmas or another holiday.

"Contrary to what has been reported, there was no request or assignment by the teacher for students to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas or any religious holiday," the statement continued.

Johnson said his son made the drawing on Dec. 2 after his teacher asked children to sketch something that reminded them of the holiday season.

Johnson, who is African-American, told WBZ-TV that he suspected racism was involved, but revised that assessment when asked by

"No, I want to take that out," Johnson said. "I don't want to use the race card. This is God we're talking about, we're past that."

Johnson told the Taunton Daily Gazette, which first reported the story on Tuesday, that his son gets specialized reading and speech instruction and has never been violent in school.

An educational consultant working with the Johnson family said the teacher was also alarmed when the boy drew Xs for Jesus' eyes.

The boy was cleared to return to school on Dec. 7 after the evaluation found nothing to indicate that he posed a threat to himself or others. But his father said the boy was traumatized by the incident and the school district has approved the family's request to have the child transferred to another school.

"They owe my family an apology and the kid an apology and they need to work with my son (to) the best of their ability to get him back to where he was before all this happened," Johnson told New England Cable News.

Johnson said in the days before the incident the family had gone to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, which displays crucifixion statues.

"That was fresh on his mind," he told NECN. "And that was a good thing that he saw."

Superintendent Julie Hackett said she could not discuss an individual student and did not address the drawing specifically or the teacher's reaction to it, but did say the school has safety protocols in place that were followed.

"It is unfortunate that the actions of our district staff have been classified as 'religious' in nature when, in fact, they were based solely on the wellbeing of the student," the school said in a statement.

In June 2008, a Taunton fifth-grade student was suspended for a day for a stick figure drawing that appeared to depict him shooting his teacher and a classmate.'s Joshua Rhett Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.