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Complaint Sparks Midlothian ISD Religious Plaque Debate

MIDLOTHIAN (CBS 11 NEWS) - Bring it on. That, although phrased far more eloquently, was the message Thursday from Midlothian Independent School District Superintendent Jerome Stewart.

His comments came after a complaint was lodged about a couple of plaques on two local elementary schools, built in 1997, that contained references to religion.

The district was contacted in June by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Staffers were directed to cover the plaques; but, last week someone uncovered them.

"At this time the district has no intention of covering them again and we have engaged outside legal counsel," Stewart said during a brief press conference.

The about face was exactly what many in this Bible belt community wanted: to engage in battle over the principle of religious freedom. And many here would argue that includes the right to believe.

"My question is—where does it stop? Does it stop at a plaque? I think that's just the first step," said Midlothian parent and children's pastor Justin Coffman. "Is the next step let's go check every teacher and make sure they don't have a cross around their neck? Or, oh, that child has a cross on his t-shirt, let's get him to change shirts."

Coffman was one of about 100 prayer warriors that gathered across from district headquarters Thursday in a peaceful protest punctuated not by anger and shouts; but, by earnest prayers.

"Prayers works," exclaimed Coffman, after the superintendent's announcement.

And other parents agree.

"They have the right to say that 'I don't believe'; but, this wasn't instructional material, this wasn't something that was going on during the instructional day," said Midlothian resident Stephanie Webb. "I don't think it was bothering anyone, believer or non-believer."

A spokesperson for the FFRF has not said whether a lawsuit will follow. But, the district's attorney has already warned the superintendent that there is little legal defense if a lawsuit is filed.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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