A Wisconsin school district has ordered a joint public-private school football team to change its logo – in the middle of the season — after a lone parent said the inclusion of a bishop's hat and cross was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Martin Lexmond, superintendent of the Shorewood School District, told Fox News that he made the decision to remove the logos after consulting with the school board.
"It just didn't occur to anybody that there might be questions about it," he said. "A parent last week raised the question asking if this was a violation of separation of church and state."
The school district has a unique partnership with a Messmer, private Roman Catholic high school. In 2000 the two small schools joined forces to create a football co-op.
Bob Smith, president of the Catholic school, told WTMJ that he was "not happy" about the decision and said it "is hurtful for the kids."
"It's going to be hurtful for the kid who designed the logo..it's going to be hurtful for the team," he told the radio station.
The new logo was created a few months ago by a Shorewood student and put on football helmets in August. Football coaches from both schools along with high school administrators signed off on the project.
The new logo included a greyhound logo of Shorewood and a bishop's hat with a cross that represented Messmer.
"It's clearly a Christian cross," school board member Michael Mishlove told Mequonnow.com. "I think it's inappropriate to have on a uniform or any sort of school authorized clothing, as I think it could be viewed as an endorsement."
Lexmond agreed – and decided to censor the logo – instead of pursue the matter.
"We don't know the answer to the question of separation of church and state but we are choosing to focus on the story of our young people – not on that question," he told Fox News.
It's a case of classic liberal intolerance, said Paul Kengor, executive director of Grove City College's Center for Vision and Values.
"This is the kind of nutty hysteria that has become all too common in this country, and it's the direct result of a fundamental misunderstanding of ‘separation of church and state'," Kengor told Fox News. "It's fitting that this would happen here; that is, in a school. It's precisely in schools that this misunderstanding is bred."
But Lexmond said he has no interest in finding out whether the football logo violates the Constitution. He said it's more important to stay focused on the "life lessons" of their public-private partnership where "kids from very different worlds have learned to work together."
Tom Pope teaches Constitutional Law at Lee University. He said the football logo did not put the school district on the edge of a Constitutional crisis.
"It is hard to argue that the logo with a cross on it advances religion in any substantive way," Pope told Fox News.
Regardless, he said the school board is well within its Constitutional rights to change the logo.
"They just don't have to do so," he stressed.
So what will the school district tell the child whose logo got censored?
"This is actually a teachable moment," he said. "This is real-world learning. We're going to work with him again. We're going to partner with Messmer and next year we will have a design that represents both schools that doesn't pull us into these kinds of questions."
But what happens if someone objects to the public school's greyhound logo?
"We would listen and be thoughtful and consider if there were alternatives," Lexmond replied.
Officials with the Catholic school did not return calls seeking comment – but Kengor said they are the ones who should be most offended.
"They should be offended by the intolerance of the self-proclaimed champions of tolerance who are demanding that they not be permitted to use their own symbols," Kengor said. "They're being told they can't use their own symbols, merely because those symbols are religious."
But Lexmond is sticking by his belief that this is a "teachable moment."
"The teachable moment is sometimes clients change their minds," he said. "They come back to you and ask you to reconsider, rethink, redesign, and so that's an opportunity for us to help our young people learn what it's like in a graphic design world."
Kengor said he's not terribly surprised by the school's reaction.
"This is classic liberal intolerance," he said. "Whatever happened to liberals believing in diversity? Not where religions is concerned, apparently."