Georgia High School Bars Religious Banners at Football Games

Georgia high school bans religious signs held by cheerleaders at football games.

ByABC News via logo
October 3, 2009, 11:57 AM

Oct. 3, 2009— -- The Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School football team took to the field for Friday night's game with a show of solidarity, bursting through a banner held by the school's cheerleaders as they always do, only this banner had no biblical verse on it.

The Warriors used to begin each home game by crashing through a gigantic banner bearing an inspirational quotation from the Bible, such as "In God I have put my trust. I shall not be afraid."

Staring shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 to boost community spirit, it had become a popular tradition at this school tucked away in the Northwestern corner of Georgia. That tradition was abruptly ended last week after the parent of one of the football players told the superintendent someone might file a lawsuit over it. The superintendent agreed.

"It broke my heart to have to tell those girls that they could not display that message on the football field. It was hard to be the bearer of bad news. This is the law, and we will follow the law," said Denia Reese, superintendent for Catoosa County public schools.

Religious banners on the fields may be banned, but in the stands, there were signs of support and, on some, messages of defiance. Students brought hand-made stands bearing statements such as "You can take Him off the field, but you'll never take Him out of our hearts," while some students came to the game wearing body paint with religious themes. The players themselves paused for a pre-game prayer on the sidelines.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that a pre-game prayer over the public address system at a high school in Texas was unconstitutional because it amounted to an endorsement of religion, a violation of the First Amendment which prohibits any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

The school's superintendent believes that because the banners were on the school's field and held by the cheerleaders for the players to run through, it gave the impression the school was endorsing a religion. The signs and messages from those in the stands are acceptable because they're viewed as personal expressions of faith.