At the start of the high school football season, cheerleading squads all over the nation get together to make banners in support of their football team. While most of the signage shouts “Kill the Cats!” Or “Go Eagles!,” one high school in East Texas decided to do something a little different. The cheerleading squad at Kountze High School in East Texas painted these bold red words across the banner that their football team would run through at the start of each game. The cheerleaders got together and decided to make banner with inspirational biblical messages to inspire their town and their team. But the signs, which quoted passages such as “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” and “But thanks be to God which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” have caused quite a stir in the small Texas town.
Kevin Weldon, superintendent of the Kountze school district, informed the cheerleaders’ parents Tuesday that the religious banners would not be allowed, reports Today.com. The announcement caused a massive uproar in the town, located about 85 miles of Houston. Although most people in town regarded the biblical banners as “evidence of the students’ admirable moral upbringing,” The Houston Chronicle reports, Weldon banned the banners after a complaint citing the biblical messages as a violation of separation between church and state. Weldon allegedly told The Houston Chronicle that his decision was “based on [the] 2001 Supreme Court decision that keeps religion out of public schools.”
“The decision I made is not my personal opinion,” Weldon told the Chronicle. “I’m a Christian. This puts me between a rock and a hard place.”
For the 2,100 residents of Kountze, however, it is personal. The Huffington Post reports that at least three of the cheerleaders’ parents have hired lawyers to fight the school district’s ruling, and a facebook page created in support of the cheerleaders had over accrued over 34,000 members in its first 24 hours.
While Weldon is receiving much negative attention for his decision, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center told The Huffington Post that the superintendent did the right thing:
“The cheerleading squad is clearly a school-sponsored group representing the school at the football game. The religious banners, therefore, send a message of school endorsement of religion, even though it was students holding up the banners for the players to run through.”
Simon Brown, a communications associate at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, agrees: “Students have a right to pray and read Scriptures at school — as long as they are not imposing their faith on others. Clearly, those standards aren’t being met here.”
Cheerleader Macy Matthews argued that no school money was used and the signs weren’t made on school property, so they should be allowed. “It was upsetting because it’s what motivated the boys each week,” the 15 year old told the Chronicle. “I was shocked, really. I didn’t understand why it would be a problem.”