To inspire players and fans, high school and middle school cheerleaders in the tiny Southeastern Texas community of Kountze made banners with encouraging messages for the football team to run through. Their source for inspiration was a place they had often found in their young lives: the Bible.
The banners contained phrases like “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” Looking for a way to be positive and uplifting in the face of losing seasons, biblical quotes put words to their feelings and longings.
Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation – that’s right, Freedom FROM Religion Foundation – threatened all of that when they sent an ominous letter to the school district last September, attacking the banners and the school for permitting Christian messages to be uttered on school property. Claiming these banners would have the effect of establishing religion in the school, the group promised legal sanction if remedial action was not taken immediately.
The threat – though largely empty – was sufficient. Soon thereafter, the superintendent for the school system caved and banned the banners.
The cheerleaders, though, have shown the quotes are more than words on a banner. Finding that same inspiration they were exalting, they contested the decision in court.
In bringing suit, the cheerleaders enjoyed broad support from various state and local officials in Texas, including Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott. A group of local parents created a Facebook group after the ban, Support Kountze Kids Faith, which has gained over 45,000 members.
Aside from being popular, the legal action also has merit. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes the right of every citizen to freely speak her mind and religious speech is no exception to this rule. Contrary to the wishes of Freedom From Religion Foundation, Christian messages cannot be censored just because some might dislike them.
The judge hearing the matter – District Court Judge Steve Thomas – agreed. The cheerleader’s case was supposed to go to trial, but last week the judge granted a motion for summary judgment in their favor, precluding the need for it. As Judge Thomas explained in his decision, “the evidence in this case confirms that religious messages expressed on run-through banners have not created, and will not create, an establishment of religion in the Kountze community.”
This setback will not deter Freedom From Religion Foundation or others like them. They will not rest until they have purged every mention of God and His truth from public discourse and every semblance of religion from public space. Only then will their mission be complete.
But those of us who wish to exercise and express our Christian beliefs need not fret. As the Kountze cheerleaders remind us: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Posted by Nate Kellum