Published October 01, 2009
A public high school in Georgia that recently banned banners containing Bible verses from being displayed at its football games will designate an area roughly 50 yards away from the field for cheerleaders, students and others to erect signs with religious themes, the school's principal said Wednesday.
The decision comes after a group of cheerleaders were told they could no longer display the religious banners — a mainstay at the school for eight years — on the football field at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. The ruling caused an uproar in the community.
Jerry Ransom, the school's principal, said he expects the newly designated area, on the school's lawn, will see a large turnout.
"I expect a lot of kids to have signs and T-shirts," Ransom told FOXNews.com on Wednesday. "We've designated an area to hold the 'run-through' signs outside the stadium for those who want to display Christian signs or Muslim signs or whatever they want to do.
"We've got a big front yard here, and we're going to try and accommodate everyone."
Ransom said the religious-themed banners, which the school's cheerleaders hand-craft during the summer, have been a fixture at the school's football games since shortly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said he had not received any complaints from football players or other students regarding the signs.
One of the signs that was banned from the football field was a "run-through" banner displayed before a game on Sept. 18. It read: "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called in me Christ Jesus."
Hundreds of people rallied at the high school on Tuesday to support the cheerleaders, who were told last week that they could no longer display the religious-themed signs during Friday night games.
One of those supporters said the decision to ban the signs infringed on the students' freedom of speech.
"Our Constitution does guarantee that our federal government will not establish a religion," youth pastor Jeremy Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "It will also make sure that we are allowed to exercise it without interference from the government. That is what we need to fight for, folks."
Jones, one of the rally's organizers, said Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese violated the students' right to freedom of religion when she ruled last week, following a complaint to the district, that the banners could no longer be shown, since they violated federal law by promoting religion at a school function.
Reese, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, ignited the controversy three days later when she released a statement regarding the banners.
"Personally, I appreciate this expression of their Christian values," Reese said in a statement. "However, as superintendent I have the responsibility of protecting the school district from legal action by groups who do not support their beliefs."
Reese's statement also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have ruled that religious activities at high school football games create the "inescapable conclusion" that the school endorses such activity. Violations can lead to costly lawsuits or the potential loss of federal funding, she said.
"I regret that the cheerleaders can not display their signs in the football stadium without violating the first amendment," Reese's statement continued. "I rely on reading the Bible daily, and I would never deny our students the opportunity to express their religious beliefs."
Taylor Quinn, a cheerleader at the school, said she understood Reese's decision but was "angry" about it nonetheless.
"I'm sad and angry about it, because we're silenced for what we believe in," she told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "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."
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb reportedly disagrees with the ban and will call on City Council officials to support the cheerleaders' right to display the signs.
Meanwhile, Ransom said he expects a fiery crowd Friday night when the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Warriors meet the Ridgeland Panthers.
"That's our big rival," he said. "So on top of everything else, it's going to be a big game no matter what."