Religious display causes controversy at GCT

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Is it separation of church and state or simply Christmas decorations? It's a question a bulletin board at one Region 8 school has people asking and a controversy that has news sources from all over the state calling.

There are several decorations that line the halls at Greene County Tech Primary School from Christmas trees to fire place settings. But one display in particular is causing quite a stir.

"We received a couple of phone calls threatening legal action," said GCT Superintendent Jerry Noble. He says it's in regards to a nativity scene bulletin board, with the words "happy birthday Jesus" across the bottom.

"The attorney's advice was to avoid that and take it down," said Noble. As instructed by the attorney for the district, administrators had the display removed.

"As a Christian myself, I'm thinking, I don't really want to do this. But as the Superintendent at Greene County, do I have the right to obligate the tax money to fight an issue that I personally believe we should fight," said Noble.

But after community response and meeting with the school board, it was decided by administration to go against what was instructed by their attorney and put the board back up.

"When you look at the supreme court cases you can find decisions on both sides," said Noble.

Apparently, the same conflict has come up before Noble even became superintendent that involved the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"Two years ago the school received a complaint and an organization wrote a letter threatening legal action. The superintendent at that time made them take it down," said Noble. He says he was not aware of the previous complaints when he took the position.

Parents we talked to say it's just sad this kind of conflict had to come up this time of year.

"Everyone has different opinions, different religious beliefs, probably somebody came through and they had a different belief," said Erin Nelson, who was waiting for pick-up at the Primary School.

"I feel it's just uncalled for. I believe everyone has freedom of religion. I applaud her for putting it up and sticking with it," said parent Christy Cook.

As for Noble, he's worked in education for the past 36 years, and says this by far has been the biggest headache. "Even as we try to correct it, now we have people on the other side saying you're weak, you're wishy-washy, you backed up and you shouldn't have. So it's a no win situation," said Noble.

Noble hopes the district does not have to fight any legal action. He says it's already taken enough time away from the district's primary purpose to educate.

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