In a small East Texas town this month, some cheerleaders made signs for the (public) school football game that quoted the Bible and referenced God. The banner read “Hebrews 12:1 And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” and “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
The superintendent, a Christian and a former football coach, ordered the cheerleaders to stop putting biblical references on the signs, and guess what happened?
School district officials ordered the cheerleaders to stop putting Bible verses on the banners, because they believed doing so violated the law on religious expression at public school events. In response, a group of 15 cheerleaders and their parents sued the Kountze Independent School District and its superintendent, Kevin Weldon, claiming that prohibiting the students from writing Christian banner messages violated their religious liberties and free-speech rights.
Of course. The age-old debate. What’s more important: the separation of Church and State or the rights of individuals to free speech?
My knee-jerk reaction to this is, of course, “Bible quotes on public school pep banners? Fuck that. No way.” Because it would piss me off if I were a kid at that school; and if I had kids at that school, it would piss me off even more on their behalf. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this issue. Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe established that prayers led by students at high school football games were unconstitutional and had the improper effect of coercing those in the audience to take part in an act of religious worship.
But I thought about it some more and I realized that this is a trickier situation than it seems on its face. The cheerleaders meet, practice, and work after school, and they bought the supplies without using any school monies. The banners are hung at a football game; attendance at said game is not mandatory. The banners are not being read aloud, nor are other kids being led in any sort of “rah-rah God” cheer or chant. They aren’t praying. They’re just quoting a book they consider to be holy.
Now, it’s possible that one of the cheerleaders on the team isn’t a Christian. It’s doubtful, but it’s possible. It’s also possible that someone on the football team isn’t a Christian. It’s even less likely that said non-Christian kid is offended enough by these signs to be truly upset by them. In either of these instances, if that kid were to come forward and complain, then I would argue that the banners need to come down. Because the cheerleaders and the football players DO have to be at the games. But no kid has come forward, and I doubt that even if there were a kid who hated the banners, he or she would come forward. Least of all now that it’s gotten national attention.
I still really hate the smug little faces of these cheerleaders. They don’t understand the complexities of the legality of what they’re doing. They don’t realize the slippery-slope of free speech here. They see it as Christianity being RIGHT and not believing in their God being WRONG, so of course they win. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s what the leader of the cheerleaders said about why the banners are important:
“I feel like it’s getting God’s word out to those that need it,” Kieara, 16, said of the banners.
Obnoxious, self-righteous. What did you expect from a teenager with firm Christian beliefs? Exactly, she’s just being a Christian teenager. Now here’s another one:
Asked what she would say to someone of another faith who might be offended by the banners, one of the 11th-grade cheerleaders, Rebekah Richardson, 17, replied, “They can be offended, because that’s their right. But so far there hasn’t been any opposition to what we’re doing. Nothing but support.”
I have to say, I agree with Ms. Richardson on principle. No one ever said they were offended, so why should we bother worrying if someone is? One of the things my comedy troupe prides itself on is not really caring if someone is offended, because that is their right. And if no one tells us they were offended, we aren’t going to assume someone was.
What I’m getting at is this: if I can be tolerant of this sort of thing, it speaks volumes. I am anti-theist. I really, really hate seeing Bible verses on billboards or posters. I hate religious bumper stickers. I hate pro-life billboards and their sanctimonious cute-baby-pornography manipulations. But they have the right to post them. If I was at the workplace, or a school, or some other space that is meant to be for everyone, inclusively, I would have something to say about it. As it stands now, they aren’t making me read them. Just like I’m not making people read the sticker on the back of my car that reads “My Other Ride Is Your Mom.”
They don’t think anyone has been offended. Maybe no one has. We won’t know if no one says anything, right? What we need is anyone who IS offended to speak up. Otherwise, the Kiearas of the world will go on thinking everyone just loves to hear their Jesus cheers, their affirmations of His Glory, and all that. We need to be aggressive. We need to B-E aggressive. We need to B-E A-G-G R-E-S-S-I-V-E !