Why does the church-state issue continue to crop up in public schools?
The latest flare-up is here in Catoosa County where the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School cheerleaders turned to God when nothing else seemed to be helping their football team.
The cheerleaders created banners with Bible verses to change the fortunes of the team and displayed them during the football games. The banners are the sort that the players crash through as they enter the field and include such biblical verses as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“The cheerleaders are not trying to push a religious cause, to shove religion down someone’s throat,” said youth minister Brad Scott to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “The cheerleaders are just using scripture to show motivation and inspiration to the players and the fans.”
Apparently the cheerleaders have sought divine intervention through the banners since 2003 with the approval of the then football coach, but a complaint was only recently filed with Superintendent Denia Reese. Now, the banners are out.
“Personally, I appreciate this expression of their Christian values. However, as superintendent I have the responsibility of protecting the school district from legal action by groups who do not support their beliefs,” said Reese in a press statement.
As you might expect, the decision has rankled some people in Catoosa. A rally was held last night to protest the decision.
Among those entering the fray on the side of the cheerleaders is state Rep. Jay Neal, who told the rally crowd, “Our Founding Fathers had one thing in mind when they founded this country, and it was a Christian nation built upon the principles of Jesus Christ.”
Neal apparently hasn’t checked with the U.S Supreme Court, which spoke to this issue in a 2000 decision that grew out of student-led prayers over the loud speaker at football games in Santa Fe, Texas
There are legal ways for students to gather for prayer, but this isn’t one of them, according to the Supreme Court.
The court ruled the prayers illegal because school authorities had made religious conformity the price of attending school athletic events. The court concluded that the district’s public prayer policy delivered a dangerous message that non-believers ”are outsiders” in the community and “encourages divisiveness along religious lines of a public school setting.”
Superintendent Reese has the support of the Anti-Defamation League, which sent her a letter today commending her for upholding the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Written by ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut, the letter states in part:
“ADL believes deeply in the importance of safeguarding freedom of religion in our increasingly pluralistic nation. This position is not one of hostility toward religion; rather, it reflects a profound respect for religious freedom and recognition of the extraordinary diversity of religions represented by the students and staff in our public schools. It is essential that high school sports programs keep in mind that the children entrusted to your care likely have widely divergent religious points of view. Your decision shows respect for this diversity.
Of course students have the right to individually express their religious beliefs and it is commendable that you have sought out alternatives that can meet the needs of your students and stay within the principles of the First Amendment.
Can we all say “amen” to that?