Just one week ago, a small piece of Chanute history was removed from one of its public school buildings. The painting of Jesus was donated to Royster Middle School as a memorial to a student who died in 1956 and had hung in the school off and on since then. 

This past week’s uproar over the removal of this religious iconography has brought nationwide attention to our small community, but not necessarily in a bad way. The portrait of Jesus has been more prominent than perhaps ever before on both social media and regular media, including a feature on NBC’s Today Show. We are portrayed as a strongly Christian community, who did the right thing and followed the law. 

While many locals (perhaps a majority) are incensed about the school district’s decision to remove this painting, the law is clear and Superintendent Rich Proffitt and the USD 413 School Board had no choice but to do so. 

Chanute should certainly not feel picked upon. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has made its primary goal as a non-profit organization to seek out and prohibit this sort of violation of the separation of church and state. The organization has been successful in nearly every state, at least once.  In 2013, an Ohio public school with the same painting was ordered to take it down and pay a $95,000 fine. We were saved that huge taxpayer expense by quickly agreeing to follow the law. 

When we live in a somewhat isolated – and insulated – town like Chanute, it is sometimes difficult for us to see the “big picture.” Surely we know that not everyone is Christian, yet many claim that the Jesus picture “never bothered anyone before,” “wasn’t hurting anyone,” and “probably helped kids feel good about their religion.” None of those statements can be made with certainty. 

If you were a child who had been uncomfortable with the painting over the decades it hung, would you have spoken up? If one child is made to feel inferior because of that painting, that is one too many. Jesus would never want to make a child feel badly about his or her own beliefs. 

The fact that we live in a predominantly Christian area of the US is irrelevant. The law is not against Christianity, it is against the promotion of any religion in public or government buildings. No one should take that personally. The heated attacks on social media, even threatening our students, are very much un-Christian.

Wear your cross necklace, go to the church of your choice, read the Bible – no one is taking our 1st Amendment Freedom of Religion away from us. Talk about Jesus, teach your children His way, lead a life that shows you believe. 

We are all capable of having much more Christian influence in our community than any painting. 

— Shanna Guiot, publisher


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