Religious Art Removed from Anna School

Religious Art Removed from Anna School
By: Carly O'Keefe
Anna, IL - The fight over God in public schools has popped up in the Heartland, on the walls of one southern Illinois junior high. Pictures of the Last Supper and Jesus Christ have hung near the Anna Junior High Gymnasium for decades.
Earlier this year, a letter from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State requested the district remove the religious art. It was a decision the Anna School Board didn't make lightly. As Christians themselves, they were torn between following their own religious beliefs and following legal advice.

"The board did struggle because they felt personally they all felt they'd rather they stay up there, but legally, we were advised as far as liability to the district, it was in our best interest to take them down," said Anna School District Superintendent Bob O'Dell.

O'Dell says the district's hands were tied by the law, and there weren't many options for putting up a fight to keep the Christian art in place.
"We checked with the Christian Alliance Defense Fund, and they said the individual pieces would have to come down. They said we might be able to put one of the pictures up in a display, but that could be challenged too," said O'Dell.

Pastor Al Campbell, the President of the Union County Alliance of Churches said the art was worth fighting for as fewer and fewer religious icons are on display in public areas. "Separation of church and state I don't think ever meant to be what we're experiencing right now across the nation," said Campbell. "I don't think it hurts young people to have our symbols in the schools."

Now a petition drive is underway. Sixty-two Union County churches are circulating a petition in favor of putting the religious art back in Anna Junior High.
"There's enough of us who do care, that we certainly want to fight this and if the court says take them down, okay, but we're gonna fight it," Campbell said.

The petitions will be presented to the school board, but for now, legality will keep religious displays off the school walls. "We felt our community as a whole was not offended by those pictures, but this is not a case where majority rules," O'Dell said.

According to O'Dell, even if the art can't hang in the school's hallways, the district doesn't want the religious art to sit in storage. The board will discuss what to do with the religious art in a future meeting. O'Dell says the district will probably donate the pieces to local churches for display.