The LaPoynor School District typically flies three flags: the U.S. flag, the Texas flag, and a Christian flag. Is this constitutional? Is the separation of church and state in jeopardy?
According to a report by the Texas Tribune, there have been numerous concerns about the flag. Kenneth Bitz, a resident of the unincorporated community of LaRue in Henderson County, considered the flag a violation of the separation of church and state. And another “concerned resident and former LaPoynor ISD student” contacted the Freedom From Religious Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
The foundation sent a letter to the district asking it to remove the flag. The nonprofit argued that the flag violated the separation of church and state and was an “unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
In protest, students in the community flew their own Christian flags on the hoods of their cars, but eventually the district temporarily removed the flag and flew a Texas Revolutionary flag in its place.
The district then formed a committee to select the flag that would fly on the third pole. The committee is made up of students from each grade level and with the highest grade point average.
This group meets monthly under the supervision of a district parent. Under this new mechanism, the school has flown a variety of flags, including one for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a homecoming flag, and one with the district mascot. The Christian flag, however, is the most common choice.
By leaving the flag in the hands of the students, the school district may not be violating the principle of separation of church and state.
“There was a time when we thought that having a religious flag would be a violation of the establishment clause,” Steven Collis, director of the First Amendment Center and the Law and Religion Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin told the Tribune. “That’s no longer the case as long as everyone has equal access to the flagpole.”
Still, there may be religious minorities who will never have enough representation on the committee to choose a flag that represents them.
This controversy comes at a time when Christian nationalism is thriving in both the state and the country. Last year, the Texas Senate tried to pass a bill requiring school classrooms to display copies of the Ten Commandments, which later died in the Texas House. However, in 2021, both chambers passed a bill requiring classrooms to display donated signs that read “In God We Trust.” Last year, a new law allowed unlicensed chaplains to serve as classroom counselors.
Still, it appears that people in LaPoynor support the idea of having a Christian flag in the school.
The Freedom From Religious Foundation said that if residents are concerned about the flag, they can reach out to the nonprofit for support.