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Kansas School Forced to Remove Jesus Portrait Following Atheist Complaint

((Photo: Reuters/Fatih Saribas))The hand of the statue of Pope Benedict XV is seen under the cross of the St. Esprit Cathedral in Istanbul November 27, 2006.

Parents and students alike are upset after their Kansas school was forced to remove a decades-old portrait of Jesus from its halls following a complaint from an atheist group.

Officials at Royster Middle School in Chanute, Kansas were forced to remove a portrait of Jesus that had been present at the school since the 1950's after the Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a complaint against the school.

Chanute Public Schools Superintendent Richard Proffitt said in a statement to Reuters that the school chose to remove the portrait rather than face legal action form the atheist group.

"I conferred with legal counsel and both of them told me to be in compliance with state and federal law that we had to have it removed," Proffitt said.

The local WYMT-TV media outlet noted that the Freedom From Religious Foundation argued in their letter that "(i)f a large portrait of Jesus were to hang in the hallway at Royster Middle School, an objective observer would have no doubt that it had the district's stamp of approval."

The letter also called the portrait "an egregious violation of the First Amendment," with the group's staff attorney Andrew Siegel arguing that the "Supreme Court has stressed the importance of protecting public school students from these types of messages."

Ryan Jayne, an FFRF law clerk, added to Reuters that his group was contacted about the portrait by a local community member.

"They were afraid to bring it up themselves so they came to us," Jayne told Reuters. "In areas that are predominantly Christian, the backlash that non-Christians receive when they speak out against government endorsement of religion can be very severe."

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