Banner Blowhards: Texas Governor's Cheers Are Not For The First Amendment
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 11:12:28 AM EST

The situation in Kountze, Texas, home of a band of public school cheerleaders brandishing Bible-verse banners, is rapidly deteriorating. Loud-mouthed politicians who hate church-state separation have just lumbered into the fray. Things can only go downhill from here.

If you're just joining us, the fight in Kountze - a small town north of Beaumont - focuses on large paper banners that cheerleaders unfurl before high school football games. Such banners normally bear a game-related message, something like "Go Lions! Crush the Wildcats" or whatever, and football players crash through them as they take the field.

Some of the cheerleaders at Kountze High got it into their heads to decorate the banners with Bible verses. Examples include, "But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" and "If God be for us who can be against us?"

School officials thought this sectarian proselytizing might not be such a good idea and told the cheerleaders to stop. At this point, the cheerleaders and their parents enlisted a Beaumont attorney to rush into state court, insisting that the cheerleaders' rights were being violated. Religious Right groups are popping off as well.

Disputes like this are normally settled in federal court, so why is this one before state judges? My guess is that the cheerleaders and their supporters believe they'll find a friendly reception there. Sure enough, a county judge promptly issued a temporary restraining order forbidding the school from stopping display of the banners.

That order expires today, and the same judge is going to consider making it permanent. This has led Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott to stand up and declare their support for the cheerleaders; they've vowed to lend them every legal resource the state can muster.

"We're also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments," Perry said at a press conference. "If you think about it, the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call a little attention to their faith and to their Lord."

Of course, this is coming from the man who last month told a group of pastors that church-state separation is a plot hatched by Satan, so I'm not sure I'd look to him for sound analysis here.

Abbott isn't much better. During the press conference, he blasted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which complained about the banners on behalf of an anonymous Kountze resident, for using "menacing and misleading intimidation tactics."

"This is student-led expression, and that's perfectly constitutional," Abbott said.

Actually, advising a school district to follow the law of the land is hardly "menacing" or "intimidating."

And the "student-led" religion line has been debunked time and again by the U.S. Supreme Court. Public schools must serve young people with a wide variety of viewpoints about religion. Schools are not permitted to let students impose religious worship on their classmates at school events. (Attorney General Abbott might want to read this Supreme Court ruling in a 2000 case called Santa Fe v. Doe. He might learn some things.) 

Here's something I found really amusing. A reporter asked Perry if he would be involved if the banners quoted the Quran or the maxims of Confucius.

Perry replied, "I don't know whether you'd be here, I would be. The point is, as I said in my remarks, this is about all religion."

Yeah, right. Perry would be standing there, all right - most likely ranting about how the school had turned its back on our "Christian" heritage and threatening all manner of retaliation. If you seriously believe Perry and Abbott would offer the full legal resources of the state of Texas to support banners promoting Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like you to make an offer on.

The religious supremacism, intolerance and downright bigotry on display in Kountze is bad enough as it is. That community could use some guidance from grown-ups who explain the importance of respecting the beliefs (or non-belief) of all.

Instead it's getting a blast from publicity-hungry politicians who don't respect the core values of the First Amendment and who are eager to create a media circus. 

No one should cheer for that.

When I took the required course on US government in a Texas public high school back in 1986, one of the topics we debated was similar to this. Our teacher, God bless him, helped us to understand where the line is. A student-led club that uses the school but is not sponsored by or advised by the school can do as it pleases with regard to religion. The dance team, the athletic teams, the band, the orchestra, and our NJROTC unit were all prohibited from using any religious symbolism or language; the exception was and to the best of my knowledge in most places remains choral groups who perform religious music because of its historic artistic value--though even in the mid-80s we were singing some non-Christian music at the holidays both for religious balance and artistic depth.

I weep for the youth of Texas who are not learning this very basic concept of separation of church and state. I weep for the youth in every other state who also aren't learning it...

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 08:44:52 PM EST

Ah, what are these folks going to do when they play a team that is also displaying banners indicating that God is on their side?  The opportunities for comedy aside ("Our side prays harder than yours -- that's why we won!!!), is this really a proper expression of one's religion?

by coralsea on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 12:07:52 PM EST

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