“I’ve been in this business a long, long time,” said Mr. Weldon, the superintendent of the 1,300-student school district in Kountze, northeast of Houston. “People that know me know how I am. Even though I got those things, I’m going to be honest with you, this may sound very flippant, but it just went in one ear and out the other.” Mr. Weldon, 53, is in a position that few superintendents in small-town Texas have found themselves: taking a stand on religious expression that has put him at odds with the majority of his students and his neighbors, not to mention the governor, the attorney general and, some in Kountze believe, his God. After consulting with lawyers, Mr. Weldon banned the district’s cheerleaders from putting Bible verses on the banners they hoist at the beginning of football games, out of concern that the signs were unlawful and amounted to school-sanctioned religious expression. A group of cheerleaders and their parents sued Mr. Weldon and the district, prompting a legal battle that has outraged and inspired Christians across the country. Last week, a judge issued a temporary injunction, barring the district from prohibiting the banners for the rest of the football season while the case proceeds to trial. Mr. Weldon, a Protestant and former football coach, has said he supports the cheerleaders and their message, but feels he must uphold the law. Though he has taken a stand that pleases the Anti-Defamation League and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, he is not their ally. Though his action upset the Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group representing the cheerleaders, he is not their opponent. He is caught somewhere in between. “He made the decision against the popular prevailing sentiment, and he’s been reviled for it,” Mr. Weldon’s lawyer, Thomas P. Brandt, told the judge last week. “He has stood, though, solidly in favor of not what he personally wants, but what he perceives the law requires.” Mr. Weldon has had to defend his decision even as Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and scores of students, parents and others have criticized the district’s ban on the signs and registered their dismay and disgust in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The marquee outside the First Baptist Church quoted Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” Steve Stockman, a born-again Christian and former congressman running for re-election in the area, suggested that Mr. Weldon’s job was on the line. “Banning religion is a direct assault on our founding principles,” Mr. Stockman said in a statement. “This is East Texas, not San Francisco. The superintendent can either overturn his ban on religion, or pack his bags.” Not everyone has been so harsh. Rebekah Richardson, 17, a Kountze High School cheerleader, said: “We understand that he’s in a hard situation.” Mr. Weldon said that over all, people in Kountze have treated him respectfully. He has attended the football games without incident, watching the Kountze Lions burst through the very banners (“But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” one read) at issue in the lawsuit. “It’s a great small town, and they’re just standing up for what they truly believe in,” he said. “You can’t fault people for that.” In a heavily wooded part of the state called the Big Thicket, Kountze is an old-fashioned town of 2,100 with a history of religious tolerance. In the early 1990s, residents elected their In Texas, a Legal Battle Over Biblical Banners KOUNTZE, Tex. — In a barrage of recent e-mails, telephone calls and letters to his office, Kevin Weldon has been called some of the worst things a Christian man in this predominantly Christian town can be called: un-Christian, and even anti-Christian. first black mayor, Charles Bilal, a Muslim. The majority white, Christian voters made Mr. Bilal the first Muslim mayor in the United States. His granddaughter, Nahissaa Bilal, 17, a Christian, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Mr. Weldon is a relative newcomer here, arriving last year to lead the district, which has only four schools. With his white-haired crew-cut and burly frame, he resembled not a former coach but a former linebacker, and though his critics claim he has cowered to blue-state liberals, his office décor seemed decidedly red, with the head of the biggest deer he ever shot while hunting mounted in a corner.
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