To wit: A Georgia school's ban against religious messages on high school cheerleader banners. For at least five years, the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe cheerleaders have held up large paper posters through which the football team crashes to enter the field at the start of their Friday night battles. The purpose is motivational, and no one has ever complained that the banners were inappropriately religious.
In fact, the community loves them.
But a parent's notification to the school district that such posters violate federal law has forced the cheerleaders to cease using motivational phrases from the New Testament, such as "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus."
The cynic in me assumed, at first blush, that the parent probably has a daughter who was cut from the cheerleader squad. But then I recalled that this case takes place in Georgia, not Texas. And apparently the mother who brought the issue to light has only sons. Presumably they didn't want to be cheerleaders.
Thanks to this woman's helpful notification (she insists she didn't "complain"), the cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe now may hold up signs with rousing rallies to victory such as "This is Big Red Country."
How long will it be until a parent of Chinese ancestry complains that the "Big Red" reference is offensive?
More to the point, how long will it be until common sense prevails with respect to religion and free speech?
Fearing an expensive lawsuit, the superintendent of Catoosa County Public Schools declared the inspirational signs represent a violation of the law simply because they were held by uniformed cheerleaders on a school football field. Nevermind that the cheer team paid for the signs themselves, and that they were not asked by the school to paint and hold the signs; they did so of their own volition.
The logic goes, while wearing school cheer uniforms, the students are "school representatives," and by extension, they are "the government."
That's a stretch.
As an alternative, and in an effort to protect the free speech rights of the students, the school district established a "free speech zone" in front of the school where the cheerleaders and others may post banners of their choosing. It's about half a football field away from the game.
No doubt all of the students get the subtle distinction that the posters, when paid for, painted and held by the cheerleaders, constitute religious oppression, but when planted on the front lawn of the school, are only free speech.
Meanwhile, one of the pillars of American freedom crumbles in a heap of tortured semantics.
In 1798, John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." I don't doubt that he would be proud of the young people who wanted to incorporate their religious beliefs as motivational and inspirational messages for their peers. That was the whole point of protecting religious liberty.
Thanks to silly rulings like this one, we're teaching our children an entirely backward interpretation of separation of church and state. Sadly, they may grow up believing that America was meant to be religion-free, and not freely religious.
Then again, ever since the ban on cheerleader-sponsored religious posters, the stands apparently have been filled with students holding hand-painted Bible verses to motivate their team. So maybe this ruling has been a boost to religious liberty after all.
Copyright 2009 Marybeth Hicks
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