Daily Dispatches
Midlothian residents rally for the plaques.
Photo courtesy of Justin Coffman
Midlothian residents rally for the plaques.

Parent protests save schools’ Christian plaques—for now

Religious Liberty

A Texas school superintendent reversed his decision to cover up—and eventually remove—two plaques with Christian wording located on school grounds after hundreds of parents protested last week.

Earlier this summer, Jerome Stewart, superintendent of the Midlothian, Texas, Independent School District, received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) stating that a stone plaque mounted to the exterior wall of Mt. Peak Elementary School constituted school sponsorship of Christianity. FFRF demanded the plaque, mounted near the school entrance, be removed because the district is obligated “to remain neutral toward religion,” the letter said.

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The plaque’s inscription reads: “Dedicated to our Lord / 1997 / To the education of God’s children and to their faithful teachers in the name of the holy Christian church / Soli Deo Gloria.” Two crosses also are etched into the plaque, which was mounted when the building was first built. Its wording was approved by the district’s attorneys and school board members at the time.

But on Aug. 25, when parents arrived to drop off their children for the first day of school, the plaque was covered with strips of gray duct tape, Justin Coffman, a lifelong Midlothian resident, told me. Another plaque, an exact replica, was taped over at Longbranch Elementary School, also built and dedicated in 1997.

News of the covered plaques spread through Midlothian quickly, and by the next day, the community was in an uproar. Parents and concerned citizens held well-attended prayer rallies at the schools and launched a Facebook page called “Bring Back the Plaques,” which now boasts more than 6,200 members. Yard signs, T-shirts, and cars decorated in shoe polish in support of the plaques appeared throughout the city almost overnight. Located 25 miles southwest of Dallas, the 10,000-resident town quickly skyrocketed to national attention.

Coffman, 32, is the children’s pastor at Midlothian’s Harvest Hill Church and the chaplain for a citywide benevolence ministry funded by several churches. He spearheaded the campaign to save the plaques. He and his wife Krystal have four children, including three who attend one of the affected schools.

“This plaque issue is a small issue to the world, but it’s big to us because it’s the stifling of Christian beliefs and things that represent Christ,” Coffman said. “This community has rallied behind [religious] freedom.”

Stewart released a statement on Aug. 27 announcing the plaques were covered due to FFRF’s demands. The district’s attorney advised him they “would not prevail in court” should FFRF sue, the superintendent said. But only 24 hours later, Steward held a press conference reversing course, declaring the plaques were no longer covered and would remain uncovered while the district consults with outside legal counsel.

FFRF’s attack against “small town Midlothian has caused revival,” Coffman said. So far, four prayer meetings have brought hundreds out to “reclaim the city,” and a citywide prayer meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13. Coffman also encouraged residents to support the current school board and attend the Sept. 15 school board meeting.

“God has put the spotlight on Midlothian for this moment,” he said. “We will unite and stand together and fight. We won’t just idly sit by on Facebook—we want to be heard.”

Sarah Padbury
Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.


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