OK, first, a little background is in order. About two weeks ago the superintendent of Kountze High School banned cheerleaders from their practice of holding up these monstrously large banners with bible passages on them as a way to introduce their football team at the start of the game. (Apparently they run through it for … good luck … or something.)
For three straight weeks, Kountze High School football players town took the field by bolting through large red-and-white banners that hollered the praises of Jesus Christ.
Most people in Kountze viewed the banners as evidence of the students’ admirable moral upbringing – Christianity and the Bible always had been fundamental to this town of 2,100.
It’s really what you do – not what you read – that demonstrates an admirable moral upbringing. Especially if the book that supposedly provides the foundation of such morality condones slavery, genocide, and the stoning of homosexuals. Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea that these folks be given a chance to learn that morality – even theirs – doesn’t come from the bible but from rational discussion and secular philosophy. Otherwise you better start stonin’ them adulterers.
But someone complained to a foundation that fights for the separation of church and state, and by Tuesday, a day after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the superintendent banned the banners, and the town became embroiled in a controversy that has touched other communities nationwide.
And the ones to blame will, once again, be the “atheists” who want to cause nothing but trouble for simple Christian folk who just want to praise God. That’s just a statement of fact. If (when) Fox News covers this, there will likely be references to nativity scenes and the “In God We Trust” motto on our currency to show how our country is on the swiftboat to debauchery.
For the record, I have to say that I like Superintendent Weldon:
Superintendent Kevin Weldon gently explains to every parent who calls that a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court precedent-setting decision requires religion to be kept out of public schools. Some parents support his decision. Others say they will back their children’s First Amendment right to hang the banners.
“It is not a personal opinion of mine,” Weldon told KVUE-TV. “My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I’m also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that that such a practice would be in direct violation of United State Supreme Court decisions.”
Weldon himself is torn, but he has to abide by the judge’s injunction, and will let the attorneys decide whether to fight the institute. He added to KVUE-TV that while people in the stands and students are allowed to express their religious beliefs, no person officially representing the school as part of a team or school-sponsored event can.
So in short, it sounds like this guy understands that his personal beliefs have no bearing on the situation and that he is under an obligation to follow the law, however it is eventually decided. Good man. Unfortunately, he has a feeling about where this is eventually going …
Although Weldon has said he supports the cheerleaders’ stance, he was advised that legal precedent was not in their favor.
In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that student-led and student-initiated prayers conducted over a loudspeaker during football games were unconstitutional because they implied school sponsorship of the prayers.
Nine years later, cheerleaders at a Georgia high school who held nearly identical signs to those used in Kountze were also forced to stop by school officials who referred to the Santa Fe case.
There’s actually a hearing scheduled today over this very issue. For the last few weeks, the ban against these signs was held up by a restraining order courtesy of a judge in Hardin County, Texas … so we’ll see how this gets worked out.
As strange as it may sound, I’m actually torn on this one. At what point does the prohibition against the establishment of religion in public schools take effect? Kids are allowed to pray on their own, as long as it’s not compulsory. As far as I understand the situation, there are no teachers or faculty leading this effort, no school money or resources were used to make the banners, and there doesn’t appear to be any sort of official school-wide advocacy of Christianity … even though it’s clearly their de facto town religion given statements like these:
“It’s an important and fundamental freedom students have to engage in free speech,” said Mike Johnson, senior counsel for the institute. “They are not asking anyone to believe in Christianity or accept the faith. They are just well wishes.”
… which is complete crap. Banners that huge with bible passages scrawled all over them is clearly pushing the boundaries of well wishes. But in a place like this where Christianity is so pervasive that it’s taken for granted as a way of life, I’m sure they think it’s just that.
I’m also forced to wonder what would happen if some Muslims decided to do something similar. Would free speech still be enshrined for those with whom they happen to disagree?
We also have this, from one of the cheerleaders:
“I’m actually thankful for (the controversy),” cheerleader Ashton Jennings said to KVUE-TV. “Because if someone hadn’t complained, or if there hadn’t been any opposition we wouldn’t have this chance to spread God’s word in this big of a way.”
So by admission of the people who made the things, it’s clearly not intended to just wish people well; it’s designed to advertise their religion. Big shock. Again, though … what legal restrictions are in place when it’s the students that do this instead of the faculty? Add to that the astronomically high probability that the parents of all of the cheerleaders (to say nothing of the football team) are likely involved in this “student” movement to use the school as a means of spreading their beliefs, and you have a real problem on your hands. Again, it’s good to see the superintendent acting as a neutral party through this entire ordeal.
Anyway, we’ll know the outcome pretty soon. All in all, it sounds like the precedent says they’re not going to be allowed to put up these banners for much longer. I suppose that makes sense, since this kind of proselytizing does seem to go way beyond the normal activities of a extracurricular Christian club. I mean, look at these things:
So yeah … even though I’m still a little caught up in the details of what constitutes the establishment of a religion on a public school, this kind of display makes a pretty clear – albeit potentially unofficial – declaration of where their collective faith resides.