Following Jesus’ example of a public and vociferous chastisement of the powers that be in ancient Judea, Christians all over the nation have fought against what they view as government encroachment on religious freedom of expression.
A group of cheerleaders, local business owners and concerned citizens in Kountze say they are no different.
The controversy began when a team of Kountze cheerleaders made a paper sign common in Texas football circles, one which players crash through energetically to pump up the crowd and the young players on the team. The only difference — instead of “Go Lions,” this sign featured a Bible quote, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
This was just the latest in series of such signs.
Who made the call complaining to Kountze Independent School District (KISD) threatening legal action isn’t clear. But soon after, and to the dismay of much of the Southeast Texas community, KISD Superintendent Kevin Weldon advised students and teachers the signs would no longer be allowed.
In an interview with the Examiner, Weldon said after consulting with KISD attorneys, he advised student groups and their sponsors on Tuesday, Sept. 18, the signs would be prohibited effective immediately.
“I respect them for what they did and the beliefs they stand for,” he said. “This decision that was made wasn’t from a personal opinion of mine.”
Weldon, a 30-year educator from Port Neches, said he’s a devout Christian and didn’t come to the decision lightly.
“This is not a personal decision of mine. I have to follow the law and the legal advice given me,” he said.
A Facebook page named “Support Kountze Kids Faith” was created Tuesday and garnered more than 27,000 members in less than 24 hours as of Wednesday. The page is full of supporters who say their religious freedom should trump state case law.
The most clear-cut case involving such open displays of religion is Santa Fe ISD v. Doe, a Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that prohibits student-initiated or student-led prayer at high school football games. The Supreme Court ruled such open displays of religion in public schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Opponents of the KISD decision say they’re ready to follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he spoke against the Pharisees of Judea and their acquiescence to the power of Roman government.
“There’s nothing illegal with what they’re doing,” said Adam Smith, owner of Modica Bros. Tire and Wheel in Silsbee. “As long as the student organizations are organizing it, it isn’t illegal. It isn’t going to get in the way of the school.”
Smith, whose son is on the Kountze football team, said he’s proud the students are still planning to ignore KISD and its lawyers.
“The kids are gonna run through the signs anyway,” he said. “I applaud that because Jesus is way more important than worrying about getting suspended for three days.”
Being a Christian himself, Superintendent Weldon said he respects those who’re angry with the decision.
“I see their pain and I understand what’s important to them,” he said.
Nonetheless, Weldon does not wish to be embroiled in a court battle KISD would almost certainly lose.
“I can’t let my personal beliefs get in the way of my responsibility to Kountze ISD,” he said.