(Photo: Courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation)
An East Texas school district board of trustees held a public meeting Tuesday to hear comments from parents, students and alumni about the ban on a local school's cheerleaders from making and running through with banners containing Bible verses for the football team.
Kountze Independent School District Board of Trustees said in a statement that the purpose of the meeting regarding Kountze High School cheerleaders and the Bible banners was to "be able to issue a considered decision that properly weighs the various interests and legal obligations involved in this controversy."
Interim Superintendent Reese Briggs told Christian Post on Friday that there is a 10-day period in which the community can submit written expressions of their viewpoint and this will be taken in consideration by the board and legal counsel.
"We will continue to receive the written submissions for 10 days after the board hearing meeting that happened this Tuesday. The board opted to extend that so that more people would have an opportunity to have a voice. Our goal is to look at all viewpoints," Briggs said.
In September 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national atheist organization based in Madison, Wis., wrote a letter asking the district to not allow its football team to have run through banners with Bible scriptures.
The FFRF cited that the banners were "unconstitutional" and the district's former superintendent, Kevin Weldon, banned the signs. Weldon said to ABC affiliate KVUE, "It is not a personal opinion of mine, my personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I'm also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that that such a practice (religious signs) would be in direct violation of United State Supreme Court decisions."
The board issued a statement saying that it is concerned with the actions of Weldon even though they believe the actions were done in "good faith," but "may have inadvertently given the appearance of hostility to religion or of preference for irreligion over religion."
The decision to ban the signs brought attention from national media and support from Christians both regionally and nationwide.
In October the ban was lifted by Judge Steve Thomas, allowing the cheerleaders to once again hold the Bible banners for the players to run through.
The board wrote in a statement, "It is unfortunate that this controversy was not brought to the Board of Trustees prior to the filing of a lawsuit. The Board of Trustees provides concerned students, employees and citizens the opportunity to bring their grievances to the Board. However, the plaintiffs in the on-going lawsuit chose to bring their concerns to the court rather than to the Board."
They went on to say, "After learning of the controversy and lawsuit, the Board of Trustees promptly held a meeting and directed the superintendent to assist the Board of Trustees in gathering the evidence and information necessary to make a decision in line with the needs of the Kountze ISD community and the legal obligations that apply to Kountze ISD. The Board of Trustees supports its students and community and hopes for a resolution of this controversy that meets the needs of the students and community and complies with the law."
Texas Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott announced support for the cheerleaders at Kountze High School. Governor Perry said in October, "We're a nation that's built on the concept of free expression of ideas. We're also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments. If you think about it, the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call a little attention to their faith and to their Lord."
The board explained, "In order to gather evidence regarding the run-through banners and the impressions and sentiments of the Kountze ISD community, as well as to receive information regarding the obligations of Kountze ISD under federal and state law, the Board of Trustees held a hearing on Tuesday."
Currently the cheerleaders can hold the Bible scripture banners. The trial is set to take place on June 24.