NPHS removes “godly banner” after receiving letter from FFRF

Written by: Feature writer Alex Mohr


Photo by: Jared Reed

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a statement to Southern Hancock superintendent Dr. Lisa Lantrip, asking the corporation to remove the “godly banner” the FFRF claimed violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The banner was taken down this past week, four months after it was originally hung.

The FFRF, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of promoting the separation of church and state, stated that a community member had “reported to FFRF that the New Palestine High School football stadium was displaying a sizable religious banner” in early September. On December 5, the FFRF contacted the corporation office, asking for the removal of the banner.

The banner, which was hung on the back of the bleachers of Kelso Stadium, featured the NP logo, an image of the NPHS Dragon, and an official NPHS football uniform. It also read “I can do all things…” and featured the logo of Realife Church, which sponsored and paid for the banner.

According to FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne, the main issue that the banner made it appear the school was endorsing Realife Church and the New Testament.

“Basically, the issue is when a public school puts up a banner that looks like it’s school sponsored, the banner can’t promote religion,” Jayne said. “There was also a Bible reference on the banner, so it makes it sound like the school is supporting both that particular church and the New Testament, and therefore Christianity in particular. It was made worse because the football logo and the mascot were on there, and it was school colors, so it really looked like a school banner,” Jayne said.

This banner was a problem because of how large it was, and its location, in addition to the school logo, colors and mascot,” Jayne said.

“The only way a school could legally display a church advertisement would be if it was clearly advertising space that was open to anyone, and not endorsed by the school in any way,” Jayne said.

Even though the school removed the banner, administration stated that no laws were broken.

“We are in compliance with all laws. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, sent us a letter last week requesting we remove the banner, because they believed it violated the separation of church and state clause of the Constitution. That violation can only be determined in a court of law. There has been no legal action, nor any additional questions by the Foundation,” superintendent Dr. Lisa Lantrip said.

In an official statement, the FFRF argued that the school cannot “promote or endorse religious messages” and claimed that the church banner “was plainly attributed to the school and must not include religious messages or promote places of worship.”

The statement cited numerous court cases regarding the separation of church in state in public school.

However, advertisements from churches are not uncommon in public high schools. NPHS does not exclude organizations from purchasing ads and donating money. The school cannot exclude certain buyers, whether it be a church or a local business.

The ACLU has stated that the First Amendment permits religious activity on public school grounds. Places of worship are given the right to advertise on school grounds as long as it does not enter the classroom and the church does not distribute any religious literature. The Realife Church banner was not located in the classroom nor was it handed out to students.

However, the FFRF commented that the banner placement was an issue.

The location was so prominent that I think anyone at the school would see that this is something that the school has chosen to put front and center for everybody to see, showing that the school endorses the message on the banner,” Jayne said.

“Our community, including service organizations and churches, supports our schools in a very big way, and we are thankful. Each sponsor that gives to the school corporation is formally recognized. In this case, this sponsor gave specifically to our athletic department for the football program,” Lantrip said.

“Much like a newspaper or yearbook ad, the amount of space/time given to a corporate sponsor is determined by the size of the donation. We place banners at outside sporting events. We also recognize the sponsors in our program or on the electronic scoreboard. The (Realife) Church gave a large donation and that is why they had a large banner,” Lantrip said.

Lantrip also said that, prior to the FFRF letter, there have not been any formal complaints to NPHS administration about the banner. The superintendent went on to say the school was working with its attorney to make sure NPHS was in compliance with the constitution.

“We did respond to the letter’s request by taking the banner down, and we are working with our attorney to ensure that we remain in compliance with the First Amendment, while also honoring those community groups/businesses that support our schools with their financial generosity. As we move forward, there may be adjustments in this process,” Lantrip said.

Realife Church lead pastor Adam Detamore said that the goal was not to advertise the church, but rather to support the school.

“The purpose of the banner was to serve and to support the school. That’s why we put it up, that’s why it said ‘Go Dragons,’” Detamore said. “We have a great football team and a great sports system. As it relates to the school, ‘I can do all things’ says ‘we can go all the way, we’ll go back to state, we can do it.’”

“I think people are always looking for ways to express what they believe or what they stand for. Somebody didn’t agree with the banner, and that was their way to stand up for what they believed in — which was trying to have it taken down. They certainly have the freedom to express that,” Detamore said.

Students within New Palestine HIgh School have been expressing their opinions, both in support and in opposition of the removal of the banner.

“I’m glad it was taken down. Since this is a public school, they shouldn’t be advertising or openly supporting any churches,” senior Kimmy Ingold said.

“I personally didn’t mind it. I actually thought it was pretty cool. None of the students or anyone from the community had come to the principal or the school and told them to take that down, so in my opinion I think it should’ve been left up,” senior Richard Lopez said.

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