Bible banners center of East Texas school fight

September 28, 2012 3:07:32 AM PDT
It's often said that in Texas football is a religion, but what happens when religion makes its way onto the field?

That's what the small town of Kountze, just north of Beaumont, is dealing with this season. The cheerleaders there are fighting to keep using Bible verses under the Friday night lights.

It was the cheerleaders with the win Thursday when the Texas attorney general sided with them, saying the Freedom from Religion Foundation is attempting to bully Kountze ISD and offered help to the superintendent.

It's a small community of just 2,100. The town rallies around its JV football team, and from the looks of the messages on the cars in the parking lot and the T-shirts of many parents, they back their cheerleaders too.

"It's a really good feeling. It's brought our community so close together and I like it," Kountze cheerleader Adrianna Haynes said.

Kountze High School cheerleaders thought they'd inspire their team in a different way, with banners bearing religious messages and scriptures.

"It's better than saying 'Scalp the Indians,' or anything. It's a pretty good spiritual way," Haynes said.

"I love it. I love the fact we get to run through the signs. I just hope they don't take it away from us," Kountze football player Caleb Darby said.

The issue began when an attorney from the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school district telling them to stop the banners from being present at school events. It went on to say, "It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor or lead religious messages at school athletic events."

Initially, the district did until attorney David Starnes was hired and a temporary restraining order allowed the signs to continue for now.

"It was done on the students' time, off school property with the students' funds -- totally student initiated. There was no content driven by any administrator, teacher, principal or otherwise -- student-led event. Any time a student goes through the schoolhouse gates they do not leave their constitutional rights behind," Starnes said.

For now, the Lions will keep playing.

"The show must go on. Like coach says, the show must continue with or without the signs, but we really like the signs and are into it as far as the scriptures," football student Jamazdon Powell said.

And parents like Ronnie Lewis supporting not only the team, but a life lesson for his daughter Makayla on the cheer team.

"Stand up for what you believe in. That's what we taught her. Stand up for God, for what you believe, and I'll back her all the way," Lewis said.

The superintendent was out of town for school business so he was unavailable to discuss the matter with Eyewitness News.

Many of these cheerleaders will get a first-hand lesson in government, as a lot of them are expected to testify in a hearing next week at the Harding County Courthouse.


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