A squad of Texas high school cheerleaders deserves a Bronx cheer for disrespecting church-state separation.
The cheerleaders at Kountze High School in Kountze, Texas, (about 90 miles northeast of Houston) had been using banners with Bible verses to motivate the football team during games. School administrators, however, received an anonymous complaint and rightly ordered the practice stopped.
Examples of signs included: “But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” and “If God be for us who can be against us?”
Now some of the squad members and their parents are gearing up for a legal fight with talk of suing the school district for religious discrimination. The cheerleaders say making the banners was their personal choice and that the signs were made with supplies purchased by students and not the school.
According to KBTV, a Fox affiliate in Beaumont, cheerleader Meagan Tantillo came up with the Bible-verse idea.
“We wanted to be a motivation for our boys,” she said.
KBTV noted that the Kountze Lions are undefeated so far this season. The cheerleaders seem to think that the signs inspired the players to victory.
“They weren’t getting very fired up by ‘Kill the Cougars,’ so if we say ‘you have power, God gives you the strength,’ I mean, that makes me want to do good,” Ashton Jennings, a Kountze cheerleader, told the TV station.
At least three parents of cheerleaders have hired Beaumont attorney David Starnes, Kiii TV, the ABC affiliate in Corpus Christi, reported. And Religious Right legal groups are considering involvement as well.
There also seems to be a lot of community support for both the signs and the sign makers. A Facebook group called “Support Kountze Kids Faith” has over 34,000 members.
A blog called “Texas Conservative Republican News” also expressed support for the teens, announcing that there will be “a big rally with lots of posters to show support for these students” at an Oct. 5 football game.
High school football is practically a religion in Texas, so maybe it’s no real surprise that actual religion made its way onto the playing field. But the school district was absolutely right to ask the cheerleaders to drop their proselytizing.
Americans United supports the right of students to pray and read scriptures at school as long as they do so without disrupting school activities or imposing their faith on other students. Clearly those standards aren’t being met here.
While the school may not have formally sanctioned the cheerleaders to use the signs, any group representing the school and using religious signs at official school events gives the appearance that the school approves of the faith being touted.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down student-led prayer over the loudspeaker at a Texas high school’s football games back in 2000 in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The justices would be unlikely to approve the current form of sectarian sermonizing at a school event.
And whether or not you believe that the signs helped motivate the team, it’s difficult to imagine any Kountze football player who isn’t Christian playing harder in honor of Jesus.
Ultimately religious signs displayed at football games are not only unnecessary, they are also offensive. They send a message that non-Christians aren’t part of the community, and that isn’t what public schools are supposed to be about.
There’s also one thing I’ve always wondered: if two teams playing in a game both claim to have God on their side, how do they explain a loss?