published Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Rally for LFO cheerleaders draws huge crowd

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    Staff Photo by Dan Henry Event co-organizer Brad Scott, top in red shirt, is joined by varsity cheerleaders from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in the gazebo at Fort Oglethorpe1s Barnhardt Circle during Tuesday1s rally supporting the cheerleaders' use of biblical verses on signs at football games.

There was no shortage of religious messages Tuesday night at a rally in support of Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School cheerleaders and their Bible-verse signs that were banned last week from football games.

People attending and speaking at the rally on Barnhardt Circle said the decision to ban the signs was an infringement on their freedom of speech.

“Our Constitution does guarantee that our federal government will not establish a religion. It will also make sure that we are allowed to exercise it without interference from the government,” said local youth pastor Jeremy Jones, one of the organizers of the rally that drew more than 500 people.

“That is what we need to fight for folks,” Mr. Jones said.

He said the cheerleaders have followed the law and decided to make the signs themselves.

“Now the government is telling them not to do it, and that is stopping our freedom of religion,” he said.

State Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, challenged the crowd to bring religious signs Friday night to put up in an area designated for the displays outside the school’s football stadium. And Rep. Neal urged people to display them in the stands as citizens and supporters of the LFO cheerleaders and football team.

“Our Founding Fathers had one thing in mind when they founded this country, and it was a Christian nation built upon the principles of Jesus Christ,” Mr. Neal said.

THE COMPLAINT

The controversy started after Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese took a complaint last week that the signs violated federal law by promoting religion at a school function. Mrs. Reese decided to move the banners off the football field.

“Personally, I appreciate this expression of their Christian values. However, as superintendent I have the responsibility of protecting the school district from legal action by groups who do not support their beliefs,” Mrs. Reese stated Monday in a release.

LFO senior cheerleader Taylor Guinn said she understands the superintendent’s decision but still feels shock at the loss of the squad’s signs.

“I’m sad and I’m angry about it, because we’re being silenced for what we believe in,” Miss Guinn said. “It was heartbreaking to know that our school system is just conforming to the nonbelievers and letting them have their way when there’s so many more people wanting the signs.

“Our freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being taken away,” she said.

Miss Guinn said she was touched and impressed by the groundswell of support from the community.

“It’s nice to know that we have not only our school and our football team behind us, but we have a whole community behind us,” she said. “It’s real awesome.”

Susan Bradley, one of the cheerleaders’ coaches, said the girls decided to use the remaining signs bearing Bible verses in the designated area outside the stadium. They will make a new sign for the football team to run through inside the stadium Friday night, she said.

Ms. Bradley said the use of inspirational signs started after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Some officials say the signs bearing Bible verses became a school tradition a little later in 2003, while others say they started 15 years ago or more.

“It’s just kind of a positive message that seems to have been appreciated by the community and by the school,” Ms. Bradley said. “Of course, it does represent a religious viewpoint. I think it represents something our school and our community stands on and believes in.”

The cheerleaders wanted to make the signs, the football team liked the idea of running through them and fans liked to see it, she said. The cheerleaders didn’t use public money or even donations to make the signs, she said.

“It seems like it was something that everybody was in unison about, so there was no problem,” she said.

FIRST AMENDMENT FIGHT

Senior Scholar Charles Haynes with the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., said this is an old First Amendment fight.

“The whole thing goes back to the dividing line the Supreme Court has drawn for many years now between school-sponsored religious speech — which is prohibited by the Establishment Clause — and student-sponsored religious speech, which may be protected by the free speech and free exercise clauses,” Mr. Haynes said.

The distinction is in the relationship between a “group” and a “school,” he said.

The signs violate the law because the cheerleaders, when they’re in uniform at a game, represent the school, he said.

“Even though ‘students’ are delivering the speech in this case — the cheerleaders are obviously students — they are doing it in their capacity as a school-sponsored group,” he said.

“I don’t know how a judge would rule, but I would say, from past cases, that the courts would see this as carrying school sponsorship, just like if the school football team came on the field with verses on their shirts,” he said.

Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High Principal Jerry Ransom said officials are trying to toe the legal line despite their personal feelings.

Mr. Ransom said he likes to see the community “take a stand on something like this,” despite the fact it’s not likely the ban will be reversed.

“I think that’s good that people are able to speak up,” he said. “If I was against it, we would have stopped it a long time ago. We have been in support of (the signs), but we have to adhere to what the Supreme Court and federal courts have ruled on.”

John Allen, a former football coach at the school who now coaches at Silverdale Baptist Academy, said he “knew this day was coming.”

“I used to get cards and letters from opposing teams telling me what a blessing it was to see our young people and community taking that stand. I never got one complaint,” he said. “To me, it’s a sign of the times.”

Mr. Allen said children now “will have to fight for their faith. We started (the signs) as a reflection of who we were as a community. There are churches on every corner in that community, and this was simply a message of all our faith, hope and belief.”

Staff writer Steven Hargis contributed to this story.

CHURCH, STATE AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH

School-sponsored groups, those that are initiated or formed by a school, cannot promote a religious message, said Senior Scholar Charles Haynes, at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. Cheerleaders, sports teams or groups such as a student government organization are extensions of the school, he said. Clubs or other groups formed at schools by students, or student-sponsored groups, can display any message they like. A group’s relationship to the school is a deciding factor in whether they can deliver a public religious message, he said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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crtsports said...

I cant believe this is such an issue. Religious signs like this are not allowed in public schools. Simple as that.

I think I will bring a sign to a game that reads "god is fake."

September 30, 2009 at 12:14 a.m.
Nedarc said...

Simple solution: Print all 'scriptures' on top of a picture of 'The Great One ' Obama. The demonic dems wouldn't dare destroy that image.

September 30, 2009 at 12:17 a.m.
Lusty_Infant said...

You can sing songs to glorious leader in state schools but you can't mention God? Obama's famous stare once converted 15 Islamic fundamentalists into secular progressives, all of whom are currently employed by Countrywide Home Loans.

September 30, 2009 at 12:28 a.m.
EatonZ26 said...

We're in the 21st century folks! The fact that this is even an issue shows how backwards some communities are. I totally agree with the decision the superintendent made. I bet these people who are against the decision that was made won't have a problem with it if instead of christan verses being taken down it was islamic verses.

Bottom line, separation of church and state needs to be enforced in a clear and systematic manner. Good job to the superintendent...

September 30, 2009 at 12:33 a.m.
eeeeeek said...

The primary leaders of the so-called founding fathers of our nation were not bible-believing christians; they were deists. Deism was a philosophical belief that was widely accepted by the colonial intelligentsia at the time of the American Revolution. Its major tenets included belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems and belief in a supreme deity who created the universe to operate solely by natural laws. The supreme god of the deists removed itself entirely from the universe after creating it. They believed that it assumed no control over it, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation to man. A necessary consequence of these beliefs was a rejection of many doctrines central to the christian religion. Deists did not believe in the virgin birth, divinity, or resurrection of Jesus, the efficacy of prayer, the miracles of the bible, or even the divine inspiration of the bible.

September 30, 2009 at 11:23 a.m.
bandmom said...

I hope all those who find some southerners idiotic and ignorant because they believe in God will exercise their right to go elsewhere. The dialogue here reflects the increasing depravity that is rampant in our nation since we have systematically turned our backs and raised our fists at God and those who worship Him. May God have mercy on our nation.

September 30, 2009 at 11:24 a.m.
yahweh said...

From the post: LFO senior cheerleader Taylor Guinn echoed the same sentiments.

“I’m sad and I’m angry about it, because we’re being silenced for what we believe in,” Guinn said. “It was heartbreaking to know that our school system is just conforming to the nonbelievers and letting them have their way when there’s so many more people wanting the signs.

“Our freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being taken away,” she said. Would someone please tell the horribly misinformed little Taylor, that NONE of her rights are being infringed.

If she REALLY wants to speak(by banner) her gawd's word all she need do is resign from the cheersquad, "take up the cross" and/or her banner and appear in the stands as a civilian expressing her rights, not unlike the rainbow-colored hair man did FOR YEARS at numerous sporting events , saying "john 3:17" on his banner. In fact, Taylor, if you and your cheersquad buddies will all resign, I( an infidel heathen) will pay for all reasonable art supplies necesssary for the remainder of the school year for you and your buddies to produce and display a PRIVATE, CIVILIAN Je-zeus banner at your school's sporting events.

Taylor , I know it's a TOUGH choice----je-zeus or the cute cheercostumes and the popularity that goes with it---but if you REALLY want to do your je-zeus "cheers" at sporting events I am offering you the perfect vehicle.

All you have to do is submit your resignation, actually resign, and provide the proof to Americans United for Separation of Church and State staff or this paper's and they have my e-mail address and IP address by which to locate me and, at your request, BIND me to this contractual offer. OK, Taylor?

Je-zeus or popular cheerleader?

September 30, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.
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