'Unfair': NC Rep. Richard Hudson defends cheerleaders punished for 'Trump 2020' sign at football game

STANLY COUNTY, N.C. -- U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), is now weighing in on the decision to place a group of North Carolina high school cheerleaders on probation after they were pictured with a President Trump 2020 re-election sign at a football game.



The North Stanly High School cheerleaders posed in front of a "Trump 2020: Make America Great Again" banner before a football game in August.

NC high school cheerleaders on probation after posing with Trump 2020 sign

The photo circulated on Facebook and caught the attention of administrators.

Hudson, whose district includes Stanly County, sent a letter to the commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, saying he was "appalled" at NCHAA's decision to place the cheerleaders on probation for the remainder of the season.

READ FULL LETTER HERE

In a phone interview with ABC11 Tuesday, Hudson said the students deserved to have someone stand up for them and their rights.

"I think they have a free speech right to do it whether it's an Obama banner, whether it's one of my opponents," Hudson said. "They have a First Amendment right to express their political views and I think it was completely appropriate."

According to WLOS, school district policy bans political ads at school events.

Stanly County Schools released the following statement the day after the football game:

"We are currently investigating this matter but as of this morning we have determined this was not an act planned or endorsed by the school or its staff. A student attending the event brought the flag into the game, which was not present when entering the gate. The picture was taken prior to the event starting. Stanly County Schools respects the rights of its students, staff and visitors to express their opinions in a respectful manner on their own time, however, Stanly County Board of Education policy prohibits the display or distribution of political advertisements on campus or at school events. Further, Stanly County Schools never makes political campaign endorsements. These policies ensure that all students, staff and visitors are able to attend school events in an environment that promotes students and not a particular political viewpoint. Stanly County Schools' investigation into this matter is ongoing and we will take appropriate action as necessary to ensure Board of Education policy is followed in the future."

Hudson said the punishment, which he referred to in his letter as "unfair," urging the NCHSAA to reconsider, is a symptom of a larger problem.

"Every time I talk to young people I encourage them to be involved politically no matter what their beliefs are," Hudson told ABC11. "I do think there's a larger problem in our society with just the lack of political discourse just the fact that people can't- -- with different political views -- can't seem to have a rational conversation with each other. I think that's a real shame."

A response from North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) Commissioner Marilyn Que Tucker read:

"While the NCHSAA does not have a specific policy prohibiting the display of political advertisements at athletic events, the behavior was contrary to the NCHSAA's "Philosophy of Cheerleading" in the NCHSAA Handbook. This philosophy emphasizes the cheerleader's important role in representing the school to its fans and others in attendance in a positive manner, while eliciting appropriate support for their team in accordance with the spirit and letter of NCHSAA and local school policies and expectations.

It is our understanding that Stanly County Schools has a policy against political advertisements on campus or at school events. It is also our understanding that Stanly County Schools does not make political endorsements. As the district officials related in their release yesterday, 'Because the cheerleaders were in uniform and were acting as representatives of the school, the display of the sign could be perceived as the school or school system endorsing a political campaign.'

NCHSAA probation, in and of itself, is not a punishment. It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior. Should infractions occur during a probation period at a member school or within a team at a member school, additional sanctions such as fines or suspensions could be implemented. In the aforementioned instance, opportunities for participation were neither eliminated nor limited.

The decision to place the cheerleaders on probation was made to highlight the NCHSAA's philosophy of cheerleading as well as Stanly County Schools' local district policy on political endorsements by individuals representing the school. The NCHSAA has no comment on the letter released by Representative Hudson."
Copyright © 2019 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.