I’ve been meaning to comment of this for a few days but politicking has drained much of my time. Here’s the issue in a nut shell,
A judge stopped an East Texas school district on Thursday from barring cheerleaders from quoting biblical scripture on banners at high school football games, acknowledging their argument that is appears to violate their free speech rights.
District Judge Steve Thomas granted an injunction requested by the Kountze High School cheerleaders allowing them to continue displaying such banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit set to go to trial next June 24, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Thomas previously granted a temporary restraining order allowing the practice to continue.
School officials barred the cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious messages such as, “If God is for us, who can be against us,” after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained. The advocacy group says the messages violate the First Amendment clause barring the government — or a publicly funded school district, in this case — from establishing or endorsing a religion. [CBSNews.com]
I tend to support the efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Generally these things aren’t even close calls. But here I sort of think that maybe Judge Thomas might have been correct in issuing the injunction pending trial on the issues. But I see it as a very close call and contingent on a couple important, often problematic, issues. So, I also worry that the judge made the wrong call. The cheerleaders may well have elected to use and continue to use banners with various quotations from the Bible on their own and without the advice, direction, or supervision of any school teacher or employee. It’s possible. As such these banners may represent the completely free expression of the students and not of the government in the form of the school district and its employees functioning in their capacity of employees. If that is so and there are no other contingencies to the contrary, then it is a simple matter of free expression and is protected as such.
But it is likely not that simple. First, I worry that the use of the banners was not a completely free expression of the students. Such student expressions seldom are. Second, I worry about a tyranny of the majority. In other words, I worry that peer pressure from the majority of the cheerleaders might have compromised the free expression of a minority who might not want to have the Biblical quotations on the banners. I also worry about a more direct form of peer pressure. Someone may have been excluded from the squad because of contrary religion beliefs or lack of religious beliefs. That possibility is nearly unavoidable. A public school sponsored cheerleading squad is not a church and does not have the right of exclusivity. If there was even the slightest role of school officials, including teachers, or the slightest element of tyranny of the majority involved then the judge was wrong and hopefully will be shown so at trial. Should the outcome be against the cheerleaders, those who so chose to do so will be completely free to express their religious credulity in some other way.
It will be abnormally interesting to see what happens at trial.