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.