Friday, October 05, 2012
Battle Over Scriptural Banners Reaching Biblical Proportions
What began with one resident's complaint about the use of run-through banners decorated with Bible verses at Kountze (Texas) High School football games has turned into a national controversy. Reporters from coast to coast have invaded this small southeast Texas town of fewer than 2,200 people that has become — at least for now — the center of the debate over religious freedoms. |
On Thursday, an estimated 80 cheerleaders, parents and other supporters gathered in the Hardin Country Courthouse as State District Judge Steve Thomas declared that he needs more time to issue a final ruling on whether the large scriptural banners — "But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57) read one recent banner — violate the First Amendment. So he extended a temporary order granted last month to allow the banners for at least another two weeks. A new hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18. (Kountze's regular-season football schedule runs through Nov. 9.)
After cracking down on school districts in Georgia and Mississippi for what it calls First Amendment violations involving pregame prayers and other symbols of faith at high school sporting events, the Madison, Wis.-based church-and-state watchdog Freedom From Religion Foundation forced the Kountze Independent School District to ban the red-and-white banners, which measure 30 feet long and 10 feet high.
During Thursday's proceedings, cheerleaders — who in this case are represented by attorneys from the conservative Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas — testified that the idea to use Bible verses on banners took root at a cheer camp this summer, without any involvement from the squad's advisors. When the district banned the banner, "it felt like my religion wasn't really accepted," Kieara Moffett, a 16-year-old Baptist, told the judge, according to The Los Angeles Times.
"This is government speech. It's on public property" countered Tom Brandt, attorney for the school district, adding that Kountze's cheerleaders signed a "cheerleader constitution" that limited their behavior and designated them as school symbols. "The cheerleaders represent the school."
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that student-initiated prayer at football games was unconstitutional.
For now, though, it's business as usual in Kountze, and the cheerleaders are expected to hold their heads — and banners — high at tonight's home game against Woodville.