FIRST ON 3: Supporters of LFO Cheerleaders To Go To School Board - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

FIRST ON 3: Supporters of LFO Cheerleaders To Go To School Board

Posted: Updated:

Update Tuesday 10:22 pm

Catoosa County school board members have decided to uphold a resolution that banned religious signs made by the LFO cheerleaders from the football field.

The school system's attorney, Renzo Wiggins, says the Constitution protects truly private speech, but when cheerleaders are in uniform and on the football field it gives the appearance that the school system is condoning the action and that is unconstitutional, he says.

"Consider whether this is a part of the pregame program. In this case, they are," Wiggins told Eyewitness News.

Update Tuesday 8pm

Catoosa County School Board Superintendent Denia Reese said she will have open ears and an open mind at the school board meeting.

"We are here to listen, that is what the school board does," Reese said. "But we will make the right decision."

Support for the LFO cheerleader banners were seen throughout the Fort Oglethorpe community. The billboard at a church across the street from LFO High School read, "God loves LFO cheerleaders.

Supporters of the cheeleader banners hope the school board will reinstate the signs after the meeting. Many are threatening to file a law suit if the signs cannot be displayed.

It is not clear at this time if the group has sought legal council.

Update Monday 8am

FORT OGLETHORPE, GA (WRCB) Continuing Coverage out of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia where the LFO cheeleaders are banned from displaying their signs with religious messages.

This story has caught national attention and supporters of the cheerleaders, hope to get the signs back on the field after a meeting with the school board.

Brad Scott walks the field at LFO High School one day after a packed stadium of supporters witnessed their second round of games without the cheerleaders religous signs.

This time, the signs were outside the stadium; but the support was seen throughout the stands.

Scott, who has organized rallies and printed shirts in support of the cheerleader signs, says the next step is to address the School Board to get the signs back on the field.

The school Superintendent has been criticized for her decision to ban the signs, claiming the displays violate federal law. she says her decision is in the best interest of the school district.

Scott says one positive that has come out of the frenzy over the signs, is the community uniting on an issue. He hopes now that unity will be enough to win the support of the school board.

The group plans to address the School Board about the matter at the October 13th meeting.

The group is gaining support on social networking sites like Facebook.

Updated Thursday 5pm

FT. OGLETHORPE, GA (WRCB) --  Business is booming inside an East Ridge t-shirt shop.  They say it's all because of community support, for cheerleaders who were banned from showing religious banners.

We're also hearing from the complainant for the first time.  Donna Jackson says she never threatened legal action against the school system.  She was only using knowledge she gained in a college course last summer.  That college is liberty university, founded by jerry falwell.

Here's an exceprt of the statement Jackson released:

"I am not offended by Bible verses, much less by Bible verses displayed publicly.... I expressed concern that teachers could be subject to lawsuits or losing their jobs. My concern was a direct result of the class I took this summer. I neither intended nor expected her to take the drastic action that ensued."

We wanted to know how the people of Ft. Oglethorpe would respond to her statement. What we found, is a community that says it's not divided.

At C & C T-shirt shop, the phone hasn't stopped ringing.  Jeff Porter can't make these t-shirts fast enough.

"We had 160 come through yesterday, and in four hours they were gone," added Porter.

It seems everyone wants one to wear at the L.F.O football game Friday night.

"People in the community are tired of it," explained Brad Scott, youth pastor.  "They're tired of christians being ran over and their rights.  I think that's why you're seeing such a strong community showing for this."

The showing comes on the same day Donna Jackson issued a statement.  She admitted she called superintendent Denia Reese about the cheerleaders' bible based banners, but said she never wanted them taken down.

Jackson went on to say she didn't intend to split the community.

"That was what I have to argue the most about the comment, was the community division," explained Scott.  "Nothing, nothing is being done to divide the community.  If anything the community is coming together on this!"

Heritage High graduate Cody Lones added, "I'm wanting to buy the shirt and a bunch of people from Heritage are wanting them."  "I met some people from Ringgold in here today (Thursday) buying the shirts, so it's bringing the community together, definitely."

The support extends beyond the Tennessee Valley.  People in New York and California have called wanting to buy t-shirts, to wear in support of LFO's cheerleaders Friday night.

"This cause has already gained a lot of success," Scott told Eyewitness News.  "If it was to end today, we can say we've accomplished a lot, because students are taking a stand for what they believe in, and standing up for Christ."

L.F.O. is expecting a record crowd at Friday night's football game against rival Ridgeland.  Eyewitness News has learned protestors will be there as early as four o'clock, setting up signs to support the cheerleaders.

To read Donna Jackson's full statement, see below.

Updated Thursday 11am

FT. OGLETHORPE, GA (WRCB) --- The woman who says she raised issue with religious banners at LFO football games has emailed a statement to Channel 3 Eyewitness News, saying she wants to set the record straight.

Her response about the controversy:

Donna Jackson admits making a telephone call to Catoosa County school superintendent Denia Reese about cheerleader signs, but says that's about the only part of the reports that are true.

Jackson, who has been the focus of a community's ire due to rumors that she threatened legal
action in order to get the signs containing Bible verses at Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School
in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia removed, has issued the following statement to help set the record
straight.

"I did not call the superintendent and complain that the LFO cheerleaders' signs violated federal
law by promoting religion at a school function. I am not offended by Bible verses, much less by
Bible verses displayed publicly.

"I would remind all who care about this issue, that the Bible condemns bearing false witness
against a neighbor, as well as all forms of deceit, gossip and slander.
"I did call the superintendent to express concern that the cheerleaders' signs be done in such a
way that all involved were within the ever changing and very confusing lines drawn by the federal
courts about such things. The issue was on my mind because of a school law class I took last
summer at the Christian university where I am working on my doctorate of education degree.

That university is Liberty University, founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell. One of my sons
recently graduated from LFO and another one is in school there now, and I never said anything
about the signs all these years.

"I am not an expert on what the law or judicial opinions will or will not allow, but we all know of
horror stories involving court battles and divided communities. I called the superintendent with
the hope of heading off the type of community division that hasty actions have now caused.

"I never used the word "complain," "complaint," "grievance" or any other word similar in
meaning. I expressed concern that teachers could be subject to lawsuits or losing their jobs. My
concern was a direct result of the class I took this summer.
"I neither intended nor expected her to take the drastic action that ensued.

"Only about two hours following that brief telephone conversation, I received an email from the
superintendent that said the cheerleaders would no longer be allowed to display their signs. I was
shocked, as many of my neighbors in this community were. I was further shocked by the attempts
to pass that decision off as somehow the result of me complaining about the unconstitutionality of
the cheerleaders' signs. This is absolutely false.

"It is my hope that the school will see to it that all students are able to express themselves in such
a way that they and the teachers who invest their lives in them are protected from potential
lawsuits by some person, group or governmental body seeking to deny that God-given and
Constitutionally-guaranteed right."

Updated Wednesday 10:15 p.m.

Ft. Oglethorpe, GA. (WRCB) - A Youth Rally held at Parkway Baptist draws a crowd of hundreds.

"This is a chance for us to step out and stand up for God," said Lakeview Ft. Oglethorpe High School Senior, Eric Edward.

Students at both LFO and neighboring Heritage High School shared personal stories and favorite Bible verses.  Rivals on the field, the two schools became on this issue.

"You can take away our signs, but you aren't going to take away our beliefs," Edward told Eyewitness News.

"Stir up some spiritual awareness and have people praying for God's blessing on Catoosa County," said Pastor David Sampson.

Church officials passed out about 500 flyers to local teens to advertise the rally.

Updated: Tuesday 10:15 p.m.

The chants roared from the crowd of people that came out to show support for LFO cheerleaders. The group gathered after the cheerleaders' signs with religious messages were banned from football games.

Supporter Rod Cochran said, "They are trying to silence God's people and we don't want it that way."

Supporters arrived in large numbers, some with their own signs hoping to take a stand against what organizers call a "cheap shot" at their religious values.

Some say they won't back down until the issue is resolved

Organizer Jeremy jones said, "The cheerleaders should be able to do what they want, they have the freedom to do that, if someone disagrees, we feel it should go to a different level, not just one person or the school superintendent."

Others feel the school superintendent is taking the law into her own hands.

Aleq Boyle said, "We feel like mrs reese stepped out on her own to do this and i feel that she has read the interpretation of the constitution a little wrong."

The cheerleaders revealed their latest sign this almost too big for the group to hold up. One footbal player said he get emotional when he thinks that his team may never again be able to run through the signs with religious messages.

Logan fields said, "I felt angry and I asked myself, why after all this time of doing it has someone said something now?

Rally organizers plan to take a signed petition to members of the school board asking them to overturn the superintendents decision.

They hope to get the signs back on the field by the next LFO football game.

Update: Tuesday 2:30 p.m.

After a parent complaint, the Catoosa County School Superintendent Denia Reese decided to ban the practice of cheerleaders displaying the signs before a football game.

Reese said the school system is violating federal law regarding the separation between church and state. She said she took the action now so it wouldn't escalate into a possible lawsuit.

"The school does not have the right to promote one particular religious viewpoint over another," Reese said.

A local group has organized a rally in support o the cheerleader signs.

The rally for the LFO Cheerleaders will be held at the Polo Grounds in Ft. Oglethorpe.  For more information, please call Jeremy Jones at 706-937-7635.

The rally will be at 7 p.m. at the Barnhardt Circle polo fields.

Update: Monday 3:40 p.m.

The Catoosa County sent this release to the Eyewitness Newsroom Monday afternoon regarding the religious signs banned from a LFO High School football game:

"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.

"Mrs. Reese commented, 'I regret that the cheerleaders can not display their signs in the football stadium without violating the First Amendment.  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.'"

Friday, 4:45 p.m.

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - A high school tradition for more than twenty years has now been banned at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Georgia, Channel 3 Eyewitness News first reported on Friday.

After a complaint to the Catoosa County Superintendent, the school system opted to ban cheerleader signs that deliver a religious message such as a Bible verse.

A parent emailed the Channel 3 Eyewitness Newsroom early on Friday to tell us the cheerleaders spent all summer making signs with an "inspirational" message. The cheerleaders, according to this parent, are disappointed that the football players will not be allowed to run through their signs.

One recent sign read: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. Timothy 1:7."

We contacted the school system for comment.

Communications Specialist Marissa Brower tells us, "Due to the separation of church and state, the school system can't take a position on religious matters. While we don't necessarily agree that all religious messages need to be banned, we are required to follow the law."

"Federal courts have prohibited religious messages during football games and we must comply with the law."

Tell us what you think. Leave your comments at the bottom of this story. We may use some of them on the air.

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