A controversy is brewing around cheerleaders in East Texas after school district officials ordered them to stop displaying religious messages during football games.
High school cheerleaders in Kountze, a small community in Hardin County, 85 miles northeast of Houston, were told to stop writing Bible verses on banners used at football games.
The Associated Press reported that the Kountze Independent School District was advised by the Texas Association of School Boards to not allow such messages at school-sponsored events.
Superintendent Kevin Weldon consulted the TASB after he was contacted by the the Freedrom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit educational charity that works to maintain the separation of religion and government. Both the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Kountze I.S.D. say they have recieved complaints about the banners from at least one local resident.
On September 17, Stephanie Schmitt, a staff attorney with FFRF, sent Weldon this message:
It is our information and understanding that Kountze High School cheerleaders regularly display religious banners that the football team runs through before athletic competitions. We understand that each week a different bible verse is displayed for all to observe. Enclosed please find photocopies of recent banners containing bible verses. You must take immediate action to stop these religious banners from being part of school-sponsored events. It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor or lead religious messages at school athletic events.
According to KIII-TV in Corpus Christi, the signs became "the talk of the town ... after administrators ordered that run-through banners with Christian messages could no longer be allowed." The station's website featured a slideshow of the contested posters and banners, which featured bible verses including "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."
One cheerleader said that the ban only strengthens the group's resolve: “I’m actually thankful for it,” Ashton Jennings told Houston's CBS affiliate KHOU. “Because if someone hadn’t complained, or if there hadn’t been any opposition we wouldn’t have this chance to spread God’s word in this big of a way.”
But for now, the signs can continue to be displayed, after a state district judge approved a temporary restraining order filed by Kountze attorney David Starnes, the Houston Chronicle reported. "The signs with Bible passages will be used at Thursday's junior varsity game and at next Friday's varsity game," Erin Mulvaney wrote in the Chronicle.
Kountze's previous claims to fame include being the first U.S. city to have a Muslim mayor as well as being home to the world's only married armadillo couple—named Hoover and Star— according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.