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UPDATE: Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club Coming to PSHS

By: Ashley Rittenhouse, John Fortney Email
By: Ashley Rittenhouse, John Fortney Email
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UPDATE 4/24/2014 4:20 PM

The long time wrestling slogan Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, gets some new life through a newly approved social club at Parkersburg South High School.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

This new development happened late Thursday afternoon, setting up the South chapter of the fellowship.

The high school principal sent Bill Merriman - the lawyer representing the family involved in challenging t-shirt ruling - confirmation of the club.

Merriman says this clearly complies with Supreme Court rulings of separation of church and state


UPDATE 4/23/2014 4:00 PM

The writing's off the wall.

The Bible verse is gone from Parkersburg South's gym and now a local business is getting in on the wrestling motto controversy.

The sign at Rubin's Deli is quite visible on Emerson Avenue in Parkersburg.

The sign says "Hey Wisconsin mind your own business".

It's aimed at the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to Wood County Schools about Parkersburg South wrestling's motto, which is a Bible verse.

The organization argues the school can't endorse religion.

But the owner of Rubin's Deli says he doesn't see a problem with the team having the verse as their motto.

And he thinks school officials should have stood up to the organization.

"Stand up for the kids, that's what it's about," says Brad Woodburn. "And if a few choose to want to have that on their shirt, that's fine. It wasn't forced or anything."

School officials wouldn't go on camera Wednesday.

But they did say the Bible verse which was over the doors in the gym was painted over Tuesday.


UPDATE 4/22/2014 5:40 PM

Call it a match over a motto.

A constitutional fight brews at Parkersburg South.

Now it's hitting the gym.

They wouldn't go on camera Tuesday but officials with Wood County Schools confirm a Bible verse that is in the school's gym is being painted over.

It says Philippians 4:13.

That same verse is on the back of Parkersburg South's wrestling shirts.

Recently the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to school officials, complaining about the Bible verse being used as the wrestling team's motto.

A staff attorney with the organization, Patrick Elliott, says someone from right here in the community came to the organization with concerns about the team using this verse as their motto.

He says while the group made no threat of legal action against the school district it did cite Supreme Court cases to back up its argument.

The group hasn't received a formal response from the school.

"We needed to point out the obvious fact that this cannot be a team's motto, that this is unconstitutional for a public school to endorse or advance religion," says Elliott. "And so that was our letter to the superintendent on April 11 about that being the team's motto"

"If it inspires youth to be a part of something, to be part of a team, to be part of an organization, if it inspires them to be better, I don't see why it's such a big deal that, okay, this particular one happens to come from the Bible," says Jayme Fife, a Williamstown resident whose family members went to Parkersburg South.

Wood County Superintendent Dr. Patrick Law says it's not clear exactly when the verse will be painted over in the gym.

The verse was already removed from the school's website as a result of this complaint.


UPDATE 4/18/2014 3:15 PM

One family takes their match over wrestling tee shirts to a local lawyer.

Attorney Bill Merriman says he is representing one of Parkersburg South's wrestlers and his parents.

He says the family feels their right to freedom of expression is being taken away from them.

School officials told wrestlers they couldn't wear shirts with a Bible verse on the back after the Wisconsin-based "Freedom From Religion Foundation" complained about them.

Merriman says the shirts were bought by the wrestlers' parents and the wrestlers are not required to wear them.

And he says the shirts are nothing new.

The team has been wearing shirts with the same Bible verse on the back since the 1990s.

"The process is a person can wear and express themselves in any manner and the speech is protected as long as it isn't a disruption to the educational process," says Merriman. "If it becomes disruptive to the educational process then that freedom of speech and expression is prohibited and our position is these individual student athletes have the right to express themselves and that this is not a disruptive position to the educational process."

Merriman says he is investigating as well as Wood County Schools' legal team to determine the next steps.


Parkersburg South's wrestling season is over.

But now the wrestling team is pinned over its tee shirts.

South's wrestling team has tee shirts that have a Bible verse on the back.

It says "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" - Philippians 4:13.

The wrestlers wore those shirts during their most recent season.

Wood County Superintendent Dr. Patrick Law says last week he received a complaint from an organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation over these tee shirts.

The non-profit organization is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Law says that's the only complaint he's received about the shirts.

It was handed over to the district's legal team and they're looking into it in order to give the district some guidance on where they should go with this.

In the meantime, Dr. Law says the team has been asked to stop wearing the shirts.

"We want to be cautious and certainly we do not - can not - infringe upon anyone's right to express their religion, but at the same time we cannot promote religion, and so we've asked them to...wrestling season is over, so the uniforms should be put away and so we're taking those steps," he says.

Dr. Law says so far no one has complained about the team not being able to wear the shirts.

Also, he adds he doesn't know who purchased the shirts - the boosters or the wrestlers themselves.

We did reach out to Parkersburg South's principal and wrestling coach for comments.

They declined to speak on the matter.


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