The Kountze High School Lions will no longer run through banners inscribed with religious messages before the start of football games in Kountze, Texas.
On Sept. 17, Stephanie Schmitt, Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney wrote Superintendent Kevin Weldon of the Kountze Independent School District:
"It is our information and understanding that Kountze High School cheerleaders regularly display religious banners that the football team runs through before athletic competitions. We understand that each week a different bible verse is displayed for all to observe. Enclosed please find photocopies of recent banners containing bible verses. You must take immediate action to stop these religious banners from being part of school-sponsored events. It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor or lead religious messages at school athletic events."
Schmitt cited a long list of court cases that have held such displays "constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A reasonable Kountze student would certainly perceive the banners 'as stamped with [their] school’s approval.' "
While FFRF hasn't received an official response from the school district, a Sept. 18 story from KIII-TV in Corpus Christi said the banners are banned.
In a statement to KIII, Weldon said, "I commend [the cheerleaders] for what they stand for. But I called legal counsel and even though it's led by students, it should not be allowed to go on."
According to cheerleaders, the bible banner idea came from an instructional camp they attended. "Coaches preach devotionals before games. We wanted to show our support for our boys," Meagan Tantillo said.
Kountze [pronounced Coontz] has about 2,100 residents. According to Wikipedia, it was the first U.S. city with a Muslim mayor, African-American Charles Bilal, in 1991. It's also home to the world's only known pair of married armadillos, Hoover and Star, married June 10, 1995.
Tantillo said the squad made Christian signs for Tuesday's volleyball game against Warren High School. Warren High volleyball players gathered with Kountze players in prayer Tuesday, KIII reported.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog has about 18,500 members nationwide and more than 900 in Texas.