NEW PALESTINE – A Wisconsin-based advocacy organization is taking credit for having a banner advertising a local church removed from a county football stadium.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that aims to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, posted a news release this week stating the organization had a part in removing a religious banner that had been hanging at New Palestine High School’s football stadium.
The banner displayed a logo for Real Life Church, which had sponsored the school’s football team, said Superintendent Lisa Lantrip.
The organization, which receives about 5,000 complaints a year coming from all 50 states, sent a letter a few weeks ago to Lantrip stating that by displaying the banner, the high school endorsed the religious message printed on it, a news release states.
In addition to displaying the church’s logo, the banner also featured the reference “I can do all things …” and “Dragons Football.”
Lantrip said once she received the letter, the district took the banner down.
It was hanging as appreciation for the money the church donated to the football program, Lantrip said.
It’s not unusual for the district to highlight businesses that sponsor athletic programs, Lantrip said. Community Hospital also had a banner, albeit smaller, hanging at the stadium.
Lantrip said school districts often rely on corporate sponsorship for major projects. Typically, the bigger the contribution, the more recognition a business gets.
For example, the district is currently raising funds to turn the football field to turf. Community members and organizations that wish to donate to the effort can purchase a commemorative brick for a minimum donation of $250 in addition to corporate sponsorships available.
Ryan Jayne, Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney, said schools can accept donations from churches, but they can’t advertise the church or its message without violating the separation of state and church.
Lantrip said no community members contacted school officials to tell them the banner made them uncomfortable.
But the group said a community member reported the banner to Freedom From Religion Foundation leaders.
It’s unconstitutional for public schools to advance, prefer or endorse religion, the news release states.
“New Palestine High School may not decorate its stadium with religious displays or church advertisements,”Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Ryan Jayne wrote in the news release. “It makes no difference if the church message is paid advertising.”
Lantrip said should a church sponsor a school program in the future, district leaders will rely on their attorney to advise them on the best way to recognize the donation.
The Rev. Adam Detamore, lead pastor of Real Life Church, said months ago, he looked at the bare back side of the football stands and thought a banner would look great hanging there. He approached the school with the idea and presented a design.
He said the words “I can do all things” were chosen because they are motivational — a message of “Let’s go get them; let’s do it,” he said — and would be familiar to people, as they were famously used by Golden State Warriors basketball player Steph Curry.
Detamore also knows those words begin a Bible verse, Philippians 4:13. Depending on Bible translation, the verse finishes “… through Christ who strengthens me” or “… through him who gives me strength.”
“People who know that, that’s how they’re going to finish it,” and they’ll be encouraged by it, Detamore said. “People who don’t know that are going to finish it … ‘I can do all things, because I’ve been in the weight room all year long” or some other reason, he said.
Detamore said what happened to the banner won’t make the church stop showing support through means such as its sponsorship.
“(This) does not change that we want to invest in the school and serve them,” he said. “We have a great relationship with the school. Our intention behind the banner was simply to show support and love for our community.”
Staff writer Anne Smith contributed to this report.