High school cheerleaders in a small Texas town will no longer be able to include Bible verses on signs at athletic events after a Wisconsin-based group sent a letter complaining about the signs.
Kevin Weldon, the superintendent of the Kountze Independent School District told Fox News he had no choice but to ban the signs after the Freedom From Religion Foundation accused the district of violating the Constitution.
The ban means any student participating in an official school activity cannot hold or create any sign, poster or banner that includes a religious message.
“I called our legal counsel and they recommended to me that we instruct all administrators in the district that religious signs or messages would no longer be permitted at school district events and that student groups and their sponsors were to be notified of the prohibition effective immediately,” he told Fox News.
Weldon received the letter on Monday and on Tuesday students were notified that Bible verses were no longer allowed.
“The decision I had to make was not a personal opinion of mine,” Weldon stressed. “I commend the students for expressing their beliefs. I respect them for standing up for what they believe in.”
It’s unclear who complained – but most residents believe the individual does not live in the community.
The incident was first reported in the Texas Conservative Republican News and word of the ban spread quickly through the tiny town of Kountze – about 85 northeast of Houston.
“It’s rocked our little town,” said Stacy Trotter, a parent who organized a Facebook page supporting the teenagers. “We’re just a small Christian town.”
The controversy surrounding giant banners that the football players run through at the start of high school football games. The last two home games featured banners that included Bible passages.
“The cheerleaders made those things on their own time,” Trotter told Fox News. “It wasn’t something they did at school.”
She said one of the cheerleaders came up with the idea during cheer camp.
“Our boys always pray on the field before the game,” she said. “They got the idea to give inspiration to the football team (with the Bible verse banners).”
Within 24 hours, Trotter’s Facebook page, Support Kountze Kids Faith, had more than 30,000 supporters. It’s quite remarkable considering only 2,400 people live in Kountze.
“It’s brought our community closer,” Trotter said. “We’re going to stick together and as parents we are proud of what they’ve done.”
Meanwhile, outside groups are vowing to defend the young girls from the Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint.
“We are disappointed that Kountze ISD is banning student speech on banners because it is from a religious viewpoint,” said David Starnes, a Beaumont attorney working with the Liberty Institute. “Such discrimination and censorship is unfortunate and illegal.”
Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford has offered his legal team’s help in launching a local investigation.
“These government school officials will never learn that students’ religious rights are protected,” Shackelford said. “We have successfully passed state laws protecting student religious speech and have won restraining orders to final judgments protecting student religious speech.”
But Supt. Weldon said he was simply following the instruction of his legal counsel.
“When I was told by the lawyers about the Supreme Court case and what we should and shouldn’t be doing – obviously I’m going to follow the law – until the law changes or I’m told to do something different by the lawyers,” he told Fox News.
Weldon said he understands that people are frustrated and upset – but his hands are tied.
“Our community is very close knit,” he said. “There are great people here and a lot of them are Christian and they believe in that whole-heartedly. I don’t fault them one bit.”