Last night, cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Olgethorpe (LFO) High School were more popular than ever.
According the Chattanooga Times Free Press, more than 500 people showed up at a rally outside a Chik-fil-A Restaurant in Fort Olgethorpe, Ga., to support these young women who wanted to display signs with Bible verses at football games.
On Sept. 18, for example, the cheerleaders held up a huge banner with the words, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 3:14."
The Times Free Press said, "The banners – the paper ones that football players crash through at the beginning of games – have been common sights in the school's football stadium since 2003."
After receiving a complaint, the school district banned the sectarian signs last week, issuing a statement that it would constitute "a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution for signs with Bible verses to be displayed on the football field."
Of course this very wise constitutional decision has outraged many in the community who have once again declared this an attack on students' free speech and religious liberty.
"Our Constitution does guarantee that our federal government will not establish a religion," said local youth pastor Jeremy Jones, one of the organizers of the rally. "It will also make sure that we are allowed to exercise it without interference from the government.
"That is what we need to fight for folks," Jones continued, adding that the cheerleaders have made the signs themselves and now "the government is telling them not to do it, and that is stopping our freedom of religion."
LFO senior cheerleader Taylor Guinn echoed the same sentiments.
"I'm sad and I'm angry about it, because we're being silenced for what we believe in," Guinn said. "It was heartbreaking to know that our school system is just conforming to the nonbelievers and letting them have their way when there's so many more people wanting the signs.
"Our freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being taken away," she said.
Local youth minister Brad Scott, who was LFO High's class president in 2004, told the newspaper that the "separation of church and state" has nothing to do with cheerleaders who are not "part of the state" and simply want to offer an inspirational message with signs they made on their own time.
We've heard it all before, and none are winning arguments.
While the cheerleaders may have made the signs themselves with their own money, that doesn't mean they have the right to display them anywhere they want at anytime. If they want to hold up their signs on their front lawns, no one has a problem with it. But when it's on school property during a school event, it becomes a different story.
The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, a comparable case to this one, that student-initiated, student-led prayer over a loud speaker at a high school football game implied the school endorsed these prayers and was therefore unconstitutional.
Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens said allowing schools to adopt policies that purposefully or effectively impose the majority's religion on others "encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens [to coerce] those students not desiring to participate in the religious exercise."
In other words, it doesn't matter if it is a school official who made the sign or a student. It doesn't matter if most of the students like the signs or not. School-sponsored religion doesn't belong at football games or at any other official school events.
We encourage this school district to remember that its role is to remain neutral on all religious matters. No matter how unpopular that decision is, it's the only way to uphold our Constitution.