A hallway mural of the Ten Commandments and a painted Bible verse came under fire by Wisconsin atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which sent a letter demanding a west Texas school district cover it or risk a lawsuit.
O’Donnell High School painted the Ten Commandments and a line of Old Testament scripture on the wall of a recently-built common area of the building. When students came to school Thursday, both were covered up, the Ten Commandments shrouded beneath the American flag, KCBD reported.
Dr. Cathy Amonett, the school district’s superintendent, said she received a letter from the anti-religion group FFRF on September 7. In it, they alleged receipt of an anonymous complaint about the Judeo-Christian display. The group asserted the mural “infringes on its students’ constitutionally protected religious freedom” and “the school district violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
The FFRF lawyer who penned the letter, Sam Grover, wants the school to remove the Ten Commandments. He told KCBD, if they do not, he stated there could be “a potential lawsuit that could cost the school district and taxpayers dearly” because the display violated the “separation of church and state and the right of conscience of each student at the school.”
For now, Amonett decided to cover up the Ten Commandments and the Bible verse to avoid a possible lawsuit. She told KCBD: “I made the decision to cover it up until I made a more informed decision about what I should do, because I don’t want to harm the district or cause any controversy or anything.”
Frustrated O’Donnell High School students galvanized behind the Ten Commandments. Many, like junior Katye Gruben, posed in front of the mural and posted these selfies on Facebook: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13″ followed by “Standing up for our beliefs. #SaveTheConstitution #OHS.”
— KCBD NewsChannel11 (@KCBD11) September 9, 2016
Amonett said she was proud of how students transformed their frustration into a movement. “I think they have show the kind of people they are. They believe in the Ten Commandments and they want to stand up for it, and I’m proud of them for that.”
One junior, Abby Franklin told KCBD she appreciated the superintendent’s transparency about the controversy.
“She’s been very calm and very loving towards all of us,” said Franklin. “The first thing she said is, I know you’re all frustrated. I’m just as frustrated as you are.”
Said Amonett: “The next step is I’m going to do some more investigation, and get with the school leadership, and the community, and the students, and we will decide what we need to do to protect the school, while also honoring it.”
State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) came out in support of the students.
— Sen. Charles Perry (@electcharles) September 9, 2016
In comments posted on his Facebook wall, Perry commented:
“For years the ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation’ has fought to intimidate Christians into eliminating all public displays of faith from our society.
Last year they unsuccessfully targeted the Kountze Cheerleaders and the Childress Police Department. Today, they are threatening O’Donnell High School with a lawsuit over their display of the Ten Commandments.
I am proud of the hundreds of students at O’Donnell that are standing up for their faith and starting a movement to save the Ten Commandments at their school. Our office is working to ensure the school is in touch with the necessary experts to explain their rights and determine a plan of action.”
Previously, FFRF filed a complaint against the Kountze Independent School District over Bible verses middle and high school cheerleaders painted on banners for school football games. In response, the school district banned the cheerleaders from displaying religious signs, verses, or messages at school-sponsored events. Kountze ISD asserted they had the authority to ban the speech because the banners were government speech. Breitbart Texas reported parents of the cheerleaders sued the school district. Their attorney contended the banners were the cheerleaders’ private speech, protected under Texas law. In January, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the cheerleaders.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.