Indiana high school takes down church banner following complaint from secularist group

A school in Indiana took down a banner advertising a local church following a complaint from a secularist group. | Pixabay/bpcraddock

A school in Indiana has taken down a banner advertising a local church from a county football stadium after receiving a complaint from a Wisconsin-based secularist organization.

In a letter to district superintendent Lisa Lantrip earlier this month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) called for the removal of a banner that read "I can do all things — Dragons Football" from the New Palestine High School's football stadium.

The secularist group argued that the banner was unconstitutional because a substantial portion of the display included a prominent advertisement for a local church.

Lantrip had acknowledged that the banner displayed a logo for Real Life Church, which had sponsored the school's football team. She said that the district had decided to take down the banner after receiving the letter from FFRF.

The school hung the banner to show appreciation for the church's donation to the football program, Lantrip said, according to  Greenfield Daily Reporter. She contended that it was not unusual for the district to highlight businesses that sponsor athletic programs, adding that the Community Hospital also had a banner hanging at the stadium.

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne said that the school is allowed to accept donations from churches, but it cannot advertise the church or its message without violating the separation of church and state.

"New Palestine High School may not decorate its stadium with religious displays or church advertisements," Jayne wrote.

"It makes no difference if the church message is paid advertising. Given this banner's size, prominent location, and inclusion of the school logo and name of the school's football team, the banner is plainly attributable to the school and must not include religious messages or promote places of worship," the attorney added.

Lantrip said that school officials had not received any complaint about the banner, but the FFRF said that a community member had alerted the group's leaders about the display.

The superintendent said that district officials will now rely on the advice of their attorney on the best way to recognize a donation should a church sponsor a school program in the future.

The Rev. Adam Detamore, lead pastor of Real Life Church, said that he approached the school with the idea for the banner months ago after he looked at the bare back side of the football stands and thought that a banner would look great hanging there.

He said that he chose the words "I can do all things" because they were motivational and it would be familiar to people as they were famously used by Golden State Warriors basketball player Steph Curry.

The pastor also indicated that he knew the words begin the Bible verse Philippians 4:13, which ends with "through Christ who strengthens me" or "through him who gives me strength," depending on the translation. He said that those who know the words are going to "finish it" and would be encouraged by it.

Detamore said that the church will continue showing its support for the football team despite the removal of the banner.

"(This) does not change that we want to invest in the school and serve them. We have a great relationship with the school. Our intention behind the banner was simply to show support and love for our community," the pastor said.