Sign ban reversal unlikely tonight by Catoosa school board

Sign ban reversal unlikely tonight by Catoosa school board

October 13th, 2009 by Ben Benton in Georgia

It's not likely the ban on Bible-verse banners at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe football games will be lifted at tonight's Catoosa County Board of Education meeting.

But many people plan to attend the meeting to call for the ban to be lifted or voice support for the cheerleaders who made the banners.

Brad Scott, local activist and a supporter of the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School cheerleaders, said a couple of cheerleaders will be among the speakers at tonight's meeting, and their backers will submit signed petitions to the board calling for the banners to be allowed.

Supporters want officials to know where they stand, whether the ban is lifted or not, said Mr. Scott, former county chairman of the Republic Party and 2004 LFO senior class president. He's not predicting a dramatic demonstration, however.

"At 7 p.m., we've asked everybody to come out for kind of a prayer rally just to pray for our schools, pray for the situation and pray for our country," he said.

Unlike a Sept. 29 rally on Barnhardt Circle in Fort Oglethorpe that drew hundreds of people, Tuesday's prayer rally is "just going to be a time of prayer," he said.

Football players at LFO used to run through banners that cheerleaders had painted with various Bible verses. But late last month, after an LFO parent pointed out that the scriptural references violated federal law, Catoosa Schools Superintendent Denia Reese banned the signs.

In a statement issued Monday, Mrs. Reese said she can't "choose which laws we follow and which laws we don't."

School system attorney Renzo Wiggins told officials that the banners ran afoul of federal rulings "because football games are school-sponsored events, not student-led activities," she said.

A free speech zone, set up on LFO's front lawn prior to football games, "allows the school system to follow the law, and the students' signs can be displayed longer," she said.

Cheerleader supporter and Ringgold, Ga., lawyer Matthew Bryan said he'll offer his legal opinion to the board at tonight's meeting. In the past, Mr. Bryan has represented Donna Jackson, the Catoosa County parent who notified officials of the signs' litigious potential. He did not represent her concerning the signs.

IF YOU GO

The Catoosa County Board of Education meets in the Catoosa County Public Schools office at 307 Cleveland St., Ringgold, Ga. Public participation is at 6 p.m. and the board meeting follows at 7 p.m. A prayer rally is planned in front of the building at 7 p.m.

Ms. Jackson since has said the ban was not the intent of her remarks.

Mr. Bryan said he sought a spot on the agenda "for the express purpose of discussing why I think it was the wrong decision legally, and hopefully suggesting some workable solutions."

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott, the youth pastor who established the "We Support the LFO Cheerleaders" Facebook site that garnered national attention for the banners, said the Christian community can view the dispute as a positive regardless the outcome.

"There was just one sign on the football field and now there's signs everywhere in the entire football stadium," he said.

"We've succeeded in our mission of getting the word of Christ out (and) getting students to stand up for what they believe in," he said. "It's awakened a lot of people."


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