BLUE RIVER — Despite the connection to the school mascot, a rural school district has banned a proposed motto for a graduating high school class because it contains a religious reference.
Some of the 90 seniors at McKenzie High School had been inspired by a Bible verse quoted at the August funeral of a classmate killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident.
The entire verse was: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
It was read at the memorial service for Ryan Snapp, who died Aug. 10 after hitting a tree in the alcohol-related crash.
The students deleted any references to God in the proposed motto based on the verse and the school mascot name, the Eagles.
But McKenzie School District officials rejected the motto as too religious: “They that believe shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
Brianna Rux, 17, one of the seniors, disagreed with the decision and wrote a guest opinion in The Register-Guard protesting it.
She said the verse seemed particularly fitting, given the mascot name and that class members have pulled together to rise above their grief.
“Ourselves being Eagles, it seemed a good way to describe who we are that no matter what we believe in, we can overcome,” she told the Eugene newspaper on Friday.
McKenzie school Superintendent Sally Storm said the owner of the company that was going to publish the high school graduation announcements recognized the motto as part of a Bible verse and called the school district office.
Storm said she called Bruce Zagar, the school district’s attorney, to get a legal opinion on the matter.
“I started to run it past him and he immediately said, ‘That’s Isaiah 40:31,’ ” she said.
At that point, Storm said, she had no choice.
“My duty is to follow the law in this case — the U.S. Constitution — which doesn’t allow public schools to either interfere with the practice of religion or establish a religious practice,” she said.
Zagar told the newspaper that simply omitting the reference to God from the verse doesn’t alter its origin — the Old Testament.
In a formal opinion, he advised the district that both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions prevent any public entity from taking any action which establishes, sponsors, supports or otherwise condones a particular religion or religious belief.
McKenzie High School student body president Casey King said Friday that most members of the senior class have accepted the decision.
King said the class has adopted a replacement motto: Nothing we do changes the past; everything we do changes the future.