Monday, March 8, 2021

Bible verses on cheerleading banner OK: Texas court

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During the fall football season, we reported on some cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, who were holding up banners before their home games that quoted verses from the Bible.

The words on the banners didn’t seem to promote Christianity or any other religion, but they were direct quotes: “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews, Ch. 1), for example.

I pointed out that similar quotes about endurance could be found in the Koran—”And hold fast all together by the rope which God stretches out before you” (3:103)—and from nonreligious sources—for example, “Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory” (William Barclay).

These sayings amounted to cheerleading, I said, not proselytizing, and it shouldn’t matter what the source was, as long as the sentiment was a proper expression of support by cheerleaders and the school community for their team.

A Texas court has now agreed with me (PDF), although the case is not as clear as it might have been.

First, the banners were found to be school-sponsored speech, not the free speech of the cheerleaders. As such, the school can execute editorial control over the content but doesn’t have to execute that control. A few months ago, the Kountze Independent School District board passed a resolution saying they weren’t required to prohibit messages on school banners that displayed “fleeting expressions of community sentiment solely because the source or origin of such messages is religious.” However, they reserved the right to restrict the content of school banners.

Second, all the sayings appear to be from the Bible. At least no other source of the expressions has been cited in any news accounts. Although the content that has been published in national stories seems to be faith-neutral in character and, as the board said, fleeting expressions of community sentiment, it’s a slippery slope. I also pointed this out in October, but if the banners are school-sponsored speech, cheerleaders need to be even more careful the signs don’t slip into proselytizing.

My judgment was based on the understanding that the sayings didn’t promote any religion or even the lack of religion. They didn’t turn non-Christians into outsiders in any way. But the Anti-Defamation League disagrees, saying the “misguided” ruling flies in the face of Supreme Court and lower court rulings.

Paul Katulahttps://news.schoolsdo.org
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

1 COMMENT

  1. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the school district has appealed the decision of the federal district court, asking for clarification on the ruling in order to avoid additional litigation.

    The district wants the court to clarify if the cheerleaders have a free speech right to use the scripture signs at games.

    “The school board’s decision to appeal was not made lightly, particularly given the fact that the district court’s order actually granted some of the relief the school district sought, namely, that Kountze ISD is not required to prohibit religious-themed banners at school sporting events,” the paper quoted Tom Brandt, the district’s attorney, as saying.

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