Bible banner news

The latest news in the Kountze TX Bible banner story, in the NYT on the 18th: “Cheerleaders Gain Ally in Free Speech Fight” by Manny Fernandez. The ally is Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Background in an earlier posting of mine: Kountze cheerleaders at football games elaborated on their practice of displaying school-spirit banners by making up banners with Bible verses and religious sentiments. Then, from an NYT story:

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.

I wrote in the earlier posting that

the [First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution] stipulates both freedom from religion (no “establishment of religion”) and freedom for religion (no “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion), and at the same time guarantees “freedom of speech” — thus setting up any number of potential conflicts between the three principles, according to to how the phrases establishment of religion, free exercise of religion, and free speech are to be understood in law.

In the latest development (as reported in the Times),

Mr. Perry was joined at the Capitol here on Wednesday by the attorney general, Greg Abbott, who said the district’s action against the students was improper. He argued that the banners were protected by a state law that requires school districts to treat student expression of religious views in the same manner as secular views. That law, signed by Mr. Perry in 2007, is called the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act.

“We’re a nation that’s built on the concept of free expression of ideas,” Mr. Perry said. “We’re also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God’s law, outlined in the Ten Commandments. If you think about it, the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call a little attention to their faith and to their Lord.”

You can see the problems here. The cheerleaders and their supporters want to draw freedom for religion as broadly as possible (at least in the case of their religious beliefs and practices), while drawing freedom from religion as narrowly as possible (again, in the case of their religious beliefs and practices, which they would like to have constrained only to bans on prayer in certain settings, where court decisions have required constraint). Other people’s beliefs and practices scarcely come into the matter, because of Kountze’s religious uniformity; the possibility that an alternative cheerleading squad is going to display banners proclaiming that Allah is great, Allah is good is essentially nil. In any case, Perry and others maintain confidently that God’s law (as they understand it) trumps man’s law; I would have thought this was a settled matter of law in the U.S., in favor of man’s law, but the claim comes up again and again in a variety of settings.

Then there is the distinction between expression of religious views and expression of secular views, which the Texas Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act (apparently) explicitly denies, treating them as on an equal footing: profession of religious beliefs is just like profession of support for a political candidate, a national sports team, or a music group. Given the propensity of school boards and administrations to restrict student expression in many domains, I can see room for plenty of dispute here, but (again) views consonant with community norms will be treated as unproblematic, and only divergent opinions and beliefs will be cause for dispute. The majority will always want to maximize tyranny.

So I imagine the Bible banners will go on, proudly.


One Response to “Bible banner news”

  1. adventuresinoulu Says:

    When I was in high school we were required to read an inspirational message once during the year at morning assembly (I went to a private school). They were always Christian. I was reading the Way of Zen, by Alan Watts, and read a passage that ended with “the conflict between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind” as a protest. The best antidote to the nonsense in Texas is for people to start putting quotes from the Koran, Lao Tsu, Buddha, Bhavagad Gita and so on. It might lead to a wake up call like the Louisiana legislator who discovered to her horror that the state had to pay for an Islamic charter school.

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