The cheerleaders have been banned from holding signs that displayed Bible verses during football games.
The signs — which are made of paper and the kind that football players traditionally break through at the beginning of games — had statements such as “Commit to the Lord.”
A crowd of more than 100 clapped as Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High alumni, cheerleaders and athletes, local youth leaders and even state Rep. Jay Neal of Chickamauga spoke out against the ban.
“I’ve sat back for too long and lost my Christian rights,” one speaker said.
Neal said the situation has become a “defining moment” for the school.
At approximately 7:15 p.m., Fort Oglethorpe police announced that all vehicles parked on Barnhardt Circle had to move, to which they received boos. The rally then went on as scheduled.
Logan Fields, a former Lakeview Fort-Oglethorpe High football player, said the signs were tradition and that he remembers seeing them at games when he was a child.
At the rally’s midpoint, a petition to the Catoosa County school board was made available.
The ban came after a Fort Oglethorpe resident made a verbal complaint to superintendent of Catoosa schools Denia Reese, saying the display of a Bible verse on the football field is a violation of federal law.
Here is the school system’s written statement on the issue:
“Catoosa County Public Schools has determined it is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution for signs with Bible verses to be displayed on the football field. Superintendent Denia Reese said, “I regret that we had to ask the LFO cheerleaders to change the signs used in the stadium prior to football games. 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.
“The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids the enactment of any law or practice “respecting an establishment of religion.” The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to protect the rights of the minority; for this reason, the stamp of approval of religion by the government is not a matter subject to majority vote.
“Regarding public education, families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that school activities will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with their religious beliefs. As a result, the courts prohibit Rabbi-led prayers at school sporting events, Wiccan posters in gymnasiums, and reading the Koran over the school public announcement system.
“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 the religious activity. Violations of these rulings can lead to lawsuits resulting in injunctions, unnecessary legal costs and damages that have to be paid by the local taxpayers, and possibly the loss of federal funding.
“‘I regret that the cheerleaders can not display their signs in the football stadium without violating the first amendment,” Reese said. “I rely on reading the Bible daily, and I would never deny our students the opportunity to express their religious beliefs. We have researched alternatives, and I am pleased that we can designate an area outside the stadium to display the signs prior to games at LFO. I appreciate that our community has rallied in support of this LFO tradition.”