BRISTOL, Vt. (AP) — Two students who put up a small statue of Jesus in their high school said their freedom of speech was violated when they were asked to take it down.

Mount Abraham Union High School Principal Paulette Bogan said the statue violated a policy requiring student displays to exhibit academic work or educate or inform the community.

The statue didn't, she said.

On May 16, Torin Olivetti and Galen Helms placed the 2-foot-tall statue in a second-floor balcony overlooking the main lobby in what they say was part of a class project.

The students had read the play "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail," about author Henry David Thoreau's refusal to pay taxes in a war protest.

Helms, 18, of Monkton, said the play inspired him to bring in the statue to protest the school's interpretation of the separation of church and state.

He said the school allows students to say the words "under God" while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and a mural in the school displays Apollo, a Greek god.

"My thesis was that the government and the administration of our school is often hypocritical in what they allow and what they do not allow," said Helms. He said he is not Christian but views Jesus as a teacher of love, forgiveness and compassion.

But Bogan said that at the time she questioned the students, they "certainly did not convey that it was a project on religious symbols, anything but," she said.