Kountze ISD mulls cheerleaders' religious banner ban

February 26, 2013 9:40:11 PM PST
The issue of faith and football are once again front and center in a small east Texas town. The cheerleaders at the high school in Kountze, near Beaumont, want to put Bible verses on banners at football games.

But the school district says a lawsuit is forcing it to prevent that practice and now the two sides are trying to reach a resolution.

Board members didn't respond on Tuesday night. They simply listened. But most who attended the meeting sided with the words of one parent who said, "Drop the ban that's tearing this town apart."

In this town of 2,000, faith is a big part of many lives. It's how some students can display it that's put this tiny town on the world map.

"They wanted to inspire the football team, they are 'cheer-leaders,'" one parent said.

On Tuesday, Kountze ISD school board members listened as parents, students and graduates shared their feelings, and sometimes, their faith.

"I've learned just to share my faith and being told you can't do that, it's not easy," Kountze cheerleader Savannah Short said.

It started last fall when cheerleaders painted Christian scripture on signs for the football team.

"To encourage the football team and the opposing team and all the fans with a positive message. That was it," Kountze cheerleader Rebekah Richardson said.

The Wisconsin-based organization Freedom from Religion filed a lawsuit. The district initially told the cheerleaders no more scripture, until the courts stepped in.

"Kountze is another example where the government is attacking student's and their free speech rights," Liberty Institute attorney Jeff Mateer said.

But not all the speakers on Tuesday night backed the cheer team.

"What if next year a Hindu student or Muslim student, Buddhist, makes the cheer team is she going to be forced to hold a religious banner, kicked off for not agreeing with it? I mean, where do you draw the line?" Kountze graduate Lindsey Brackin said.

No matter their role at the school or in the community, it's become a learning experience for the entire town.

"The did it to encourage of football boys. We didn't want to say things like, 'Drown the Sharks' or 'Scalp the Indians,'" Kountze athlete Ron Rogers said.

We don't know yet when the school board will issue its response. The courts will take up this again in June.

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