O'Donnell High School covers up Ten Commandments after anonymous complaint

Published: Sep. 9, 2016 at 3:17 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2016 at 10:02 PM CDT
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Ten Commandments are now covered by an American Flag (source: KCBD)
Ten Commandments are now covered by an American Flag (source: KCBD)
Dawson High School Lady Dragons stand with O'Donnell students (Source: Facebook)
Dawson High School Lady Dragons stand with O'Donnell students (Source: Facebook)

O'DONNELL, TX (KCBD) - It's an issue of the separation between church and state.

O'Donnell High School had a painting of the Ten Commandments and a bible verse in the recently-built common area of the school.

But when students came to school Thursday morning, both paintings were covered up.

O'Donnell ISD Superintendent Dr. Cathy Amonett says she received a letter from a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Wednesday night.

The letter said they had received an anonymous complaint about the Ten Commandments and the scripture painted on the school wall.

Dr. Amonett says she covered up the paintings to avoid a lawsuit, until a better solution can be found.

But covering the commandments quickly created a movement that spread throughout the school.

"Be on your guard, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong - 1Corinthians 16-13 - meaning we all just need to stand firm; the whole school came together today."

O'Donnell High School junior Katye Gruben posted her reaction on Facebook, one of hundreds of students joining the community-wide conversation.

"It's one of the big things that O'Donnell is known for, is keeping their faith strong no matter what. So we just decided that we were going to make it known, that we wanted this as a big deal," Junior Abby Franklin said.

Dr. Cathy Amonett initially covered the paintings with black paper, but some students tore that down.

Now, the Ten Commandments painting is covered with an American Flag.

"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," Dr. Amonett said.

Franklin says the students appreciate the way Dr. Amonett has been transparent about this situation, as she hosted a school assembly Thursday after lunch.

"She's been very calm and very loving towards all of us. The first thing she said is, I know you're all frustrated. I'm just as frustrated as you are," Franklin said.

But the students have taken that frustration and turned it into a movement.

"Students have put verses on sticky notes just around the hallways and stuff. So two verses and commandments they've been complaining about turned into 70 verses," junior Sebastian Pedroza said.

"I'm proud of my kids. I think that they have shown the kind of people that they are. They believe in the Ten Commandments and they want to stand up for it, and I'm proud of them for that," Dr. Amonett said.

Now it is a waiting game, as they still don't know who initially complained.

"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," Dr. Amonett said.

Franklin says she is not alone in hoping a solution will be reached soon.

"This is something we believe in, and this is something that we can't just ignore," she said. "Don't take away our faith. It's all we have, it's all we can live on anymore."

The Ten Commandments will remain covered for the time being.

We received this reply from Sam Grover, a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

FFRF takes in thousands of complaints each year from people reporting religious promotion by the government in their local communities. That's how we learned of the Ten Commandments and bible verse display in this case. We sent a letter to educate the school district on why this display violates the law and to invite them to voluntarily correct the problem. At this point, we hope that the superintendent will do the right thing and remove the religious display, which violates the separation of church and state and also the right of conscience of each student at the school. If the school district chooses to keep the display, it is exposing itself to a potential lawsuit that could cost the school district and taxpayers dearly.

Senator Charles Perry issued this statement on Friday:

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.

PDF: Original letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation

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