An attorney for the Christian Law Association says cheerleaders and students at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School may not be able to continue displaying Bible verses on their football banners if they make them at school, but they could make them at home on their own and bring them to games.
Attorney Barbara J. Weller of Seminole, Fla., said she has been in touch with a number of Chattanooga-area residents upset about the banning of the banners by school officials.
Several hundred people gathered at the polo grounds in Fort Oglethorpe on Tuesday night in a rally in support of the students' rights to continue to display the banners.
For a number of years at the school, cheerleaders have been making banners for the players to run through at the start of games with such Bible-based messages as “commit to the Lord” and “take courage and do it.”
A parent last week complained to Catoosa County School Superintendent Denia Reese about the banners.
School officials later said the signs will no longer be allowed because it is “a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution for signs with Bible verses to be displayed on the football field.”
Attorney Weller said, "Thank you for contacting the Christian Law Association and our law firm about a local school telling cheerleaders they may no longer display Bible verses on their football banners. We have received quite a few calls about this issue and I understand that the banners were made by the cheerleaders as an official school activity that was supervised by their cheerleading advisor. Since the school has now received a complaint from a parent, the school is obviously nervous that this parent might contact the ACLU and a lawsuit might be filed against the school for violating the “separation of church and state.” If such a lawsuit were filed against the school, the school would lose.
"However, that is not the end of the story. Even though the school would lose if the football banner with Bible verses were an official activity of the school, there is another way around this problem. The students themselves have free speech rights at the school, including the right to discuss religion. Therefore, if the students themselves make other banners with Bible verses that are not part of their official cheerleading activities or an official banner for the game, these student banners would be protected free speech.
"So I have been advising those who call us that while the students may not continue to put Bible verses on the banners they have been making officially for the games, the students have the right to make other banners with Bible verses on them, as long as they make the banners away from the school and bring them to the games to display on their own, without the school’s approval, permission or participation.
"The school may allow the students to engage in this form of free speech at the football games and the school would not lose a lawsuit filed by the ACLU if it were the students themselves making the banners and not the cheerleaders doing it as an official school activity.
"Finally, if the official school banners merely used the words, 'Power, Love, Self Discipline' on the official banners without reference to the Bible verse that includes them, this would not be religious expression and would not serve as the basis for a potential lawsuit."