New Palestine community responds to banner flap

NEW PALESTINE — When a sports banner carrying a religious connotation was removed from New Palestine High School, area parents and supporters decided to turn the controversy into something positive.

The Realife Church-sponsored sign, “I can do all things,” no longer hangs outside the high school’s football stadium, but the inspirational message will now be brandished by a group of do-gooders vowing to donate the proceeds of shirt and sign sales to charity.

Hometown Apparel teamed up with local parents, taking orders for more than 700 T-shirts and dozens of “I Can Do All Things!” and “#newpalproud” yard signs, with proceeds going to local youth organizations.

Parents picked three local groups, the Grid Iron Alliance football booster club, the Brody Stephens Fund (honoring a New Palestine student who recently died of leukemia), and a new anti-bullying program to benefit from the sales from the one-time fundraiser.

The effort started last week after community leaders learned school officials had been prompted by The Freedom From Religion Foundation to take down the sign from Realife Church, which had made a donation to the school.

The words, “I can do all things,” begin Bible verse Philippians 4:13. Depending on the translation, the verse finishes “… through Christ who strengthens me” or “… through him who gives me strength.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that aims to protect the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, contacted district officials asking the banner be removed. District officials obliged, creating a stir in the community.

Chris Walden, whose sons played football for the Dragons, wished corporation officials would have fought to keep the sign up, saying it had nothing to do with religion, other than the name of the church, which was included on the sign.

For Christians, the saying might have prompted them to think of the Bible verse, but if not, Walden said there is no way anyone could think the district was preaching at its students.

“It’s a football field, and those are the kind of things that are said in football,” Walden said. “Coaches expect their players to be able to do all things on the field.”

Local parent and Hometown Apparel owner Heather Hill said families started reaching out to her to print shirts as soon as word broke the banner would be taken down because of its religious overtone.

Hill and Tracy Calvert, another local parent, sprang into action, connecting with Russ Steele, who helps run a Facebook group for local parents, to organize a shirt and sign sale.

Calvert said she respects the separation of church and state but was bothered by the decision to take the sign down because the church paid for the advertisement like any other business would.

Church officials said they will not request their donation be returned.

Calvert didn’t like an outside influence telling the district what to do and felt the message was inspirational.

“With all the negativity in the world telling kids they don’t amount to anything, what is wrong with telling our kids they can do all things?” Calvert said.

Now, parents hope to direct that empowerment toward local organizations that directly benefit students and the community.

T-shirts are listed for $10 ($15 for long sleeves); and sweatshirts are going for $25. Yard signs are $12. Orders can be placed through Hometown Apparel or through the New Pal Parents Facebook page.

Steele said he’s used the controversy as a teaching moment for his two youngest children, ages 8 and 10. He spoke to them about being respectful and open to working with people who have different ideas and beliefs. At the same time, he wants his children to stick to what they believe in and do what is in their hearts.

“That’s what’s driving all of us involved with this,” Steele said.

Show of support

T-shirts are available for $10 ($15 for long sleeves); and sweatshirts are going for $25. Yard signs are $12. Orders can be placed through Hometown Apparel or through the New Pal Parents Facebook page.

Author photo
Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.