The portrait of Jesus still adorns the hall at Bridgeport High School.
CLARKSBURG - With the summer nearly over and Jesus still gracing the halls of Bridgeport High School, the groups that have filed a lawsuit demanding His portrait be taken down are attempting to speed up their case.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the Harrison County Board of Education in June and filed July 22 for a Motion for Expedited Discovery in an attempt gain a preliminary injunction ordering Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" be removed prior to school starting Aug. 28.
Defendants Harrison Board of Education, County Superintendent Carl Friebel, Jr. and Bridgeport Principal Lindy Bennett filed their response July 26. The plaintiffs' motion sought to conduct depositions of Bennett, Friedel, current members of the Harrison Board and one former member who left office July 1.
"Although Plaintiffs request that the Court grant them leave to conduct 'limited expedited discovery,' the discovery they seek to expedite is hardly limited," the response says. "Plaintiffs ask the Court to allow them to take a total of 40 hours of deposition testimony from eight different witnesses in time to seek an injunction before school begins next month.
"Although Plaintiffs represent that they need this testimony on an expedited basis 'solely for purpose of (a) ascertaining whether this case lends itself to a preliminary injunction motion, and (b) clarifying the record for such a proceeding,' they propose no limitations on the subject matter of the depositions to be expedited, and they are willing only to 'limit themselves to five hours questioning (of) each witness,' and state that each of the deposed parties might need to be re-deposed for full discovery later."
Attorney Rodney Bean of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg drew up the response and says the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure limit the plaintiffs to 10 one-day depositions of no more than seven hours each, so five-hour depositions now with full depositions later hardly seem "limited" to him.
"What Plaintiffs apparently seek is not just to expedite discovery, but to expand it considerably beyond the scope of the Rules," the response says.
Bean adds that the plaintiffs, Bridgeport residents Harold Sklar and Jacqueline McKenzie, have not expressed a compelling need that would allow for the granting of expedited discovery.
Sklar and McKenzie filed the lawsuit after a June 6 vote by the Board decided to leave the portrait hanging in the hallway outside Bennett's office. It has been displayed at Bridgeport High for approximately 40 years.
After reading the response, the plaintiffs filed a motion to file a reply to the defense's response, leaving Judge Irene Keeley six days to look over the reply before a hearing on Aug. 9.
Sklar, a lawyer who notes he is Jewish in his complaint, and McKenzie, a former District Deputy and current substitute teacher who says she is Catholic, alleged that Bridgeport High spends taxpayer funds to maintain the Jesus portrait. In the Board's response, it denied doing so.
"The primary purpose of the Jesus-portrait display is to advance religion," the complaint says. "None of the defendants has offered a legitimate secular justification for the display of obviously Christian iconography in a public school."
The complaint seeks a declaratory judgment stating the defendants are violating the U.S. Constitution by displaying the portrait, and injunction ordering the defendants to remove it, nominal damages and court costs.
Richard Katskee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Terri Baur of the ACLU of West Virginia are representing the plaintiffs.
U.S. District Court case number 1:06-CV