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Group demands Ala. school end use of religious spirit banners

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Is it freedom of speech or separation of church and state?

The Autauga County School System is under fire over religious spirit banners at football games.

The cheerleaders at Marbury High School use banners with Bible verses on them to pump up the team and the crowd.

But now a national organization is crying foul and the school system isn't backing down.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent Autauga County School Superintendent Spence Agee a letter after a Marbury High School alum contacted the organization regarding a banner from a recent football game.

"This gives the appearance of school sponsorship and endorsement of religion over non-religion or Christianity over other religion," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, President of the FFRF.

The letter asks administrators to "take immediate action to stop these religious banners from being part of school-sponsored events" and that "public high school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students."

"We have done this forever," says Lynn Green who graduated from Marbury in 1979. She says Bible verse banners are staples at the football games.

Ed Bush--a local pastor says the school had nothing to do with creating the banner.

"The Marbury High School didn't support this. The cheerleaders--the individual cheerleaders wanted to do this by their faith to pray for their football team."

Gaylor doesn't think that makes it right. "These cheerleaders are acting on behalf of the school. They're supposed to be out there drumming up team spirit...not talking about the spirit of Christ."

So what does the school system say? Agee believes certain criteria make the banner ok.

"The banner was student-initiated, student developed, and it was produced outside of the school area after school hours and the funds used were not public funds."

Still, the FFRF says just because cheerleaders did it on their own time, they still brought the banner into a school sanctioned event. "It's students taking it upon themselves to officially proselytize during a public school event."

Right now Agee has no plans to respond to their letter. "At this point I have not responded to anybody's letter, complaint, inquiry, or opinion."

Last month, in a similar situation in Texas, a district judge granted a temporary injunction in favor of the banners. That trial is set for next June, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation does not think a ruling from any state would hold up in a federal court.

Superintendent Agee adds if a different religious group wanted to display banners at a ball game, they would be allowed to do so.

Parents and students at Marbury High School plan to hold a rally Friday morning at a church not far from the school.

They're also handing out T-shirts with the same Bible verse on them to wear at school.

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