In Texas, a sis boom bad ruling
A judge has wrongly agreed to allow a high school cheerleading squad to display banners with Bible verses at football games.
The cheerleaders of Kountze Middle School displayed faith-based signs at their school's football game in September. (Randy Edwards / Beaumont Enterprise / Associated Press / September 20, 2012)
October 24, 2012
At some point, the cheerleading squad at Kountze High School in Texas began inscribing the banners at football games with Bible verses such as "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me!" To the cheerleaders' way of thinking, the banners are a way of exercising their freedom of speech, and a judge has at least tentatively — and wrongly — agreed.
The school superintendent in Kountze had told the cheerleaders to drop the religious messages, but Hardin County District Judge Steve Thomas said last week that the superintendent's order appeared to violate a 2007 Texas law that requires schools to treat a student's religious expression the same as any other viewpoint. He issued a temporary injunction against the school district until the case goes to trial.
Certainly, students are entitled to express their personal viewpoints, religious or not, in many school-related settings. They can exchange religious views with other students in the cafeteria or form Christian clubs and pray with one another. Individual students can speak up in class on the subject at hand and give opinions that are informed by their faith. But a cheerleading squad is a school-sponsored organization that is supposed to be equally welcoming to all students of all beliefs; the cheerleaders wear school uniforms and perform at official school functions representing their school. If the word "school" seems to appear frequently in the previous sentence, it's for a reason: There's no way of getting around the impression that the banners have the school's seal of approval.
Thomas apparently did not take into account a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional for a school to allow a student to offer a prayer over the public-address system before a football game. The prayer might express the student's personal religious belief, but its recitation via the school's equipment at a school function implies school endorsement.