November 12 2013
Vicki E. Alger
“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
That Biblical passage and other religious statements written on banners by a team of East Texas high school cheerleaders has gotten them deemed de-facto creatures of the state devoid of First Amendment speech protections.
Under pressure from a Wisconsin-based ACLU affiliate Kevin Weldon, Superintendent of the Kountze Independent School District (about 95 miles outside of Houston), banned cheerleaders from displaying their Biblical banners. As the New York Times explains:
Rather than the typical slogans reading “Scalp the Indians” or “Pluck the Eagles” that [the cheerleading team] considered too negative, they came up with what they felt were more inspiring phrases. The first one read: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
After one game in mid-September, school district officials decided to prohibit the cheerleaders from writing the messages, and an administrator announced the decision over the high school intercom on Sept. 18. Mr. Weldon, the superintendent, said his decision was in response to a letter he received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation calling the banners unconstitutional. The Wisconsin-based group, which is made up of atheists and agnostics, has been active in Texas, unsuccessfully suing Gov. Rick Perry in federal court last year over his involvement in a Christian-centered prayer rally at a Houston stadium.
This spring the cheerleaders won in court and were allowed to continue displaying passages from the Bible on their banners—but an appeal from the Kountze ISD and the ACLU put the brakes on.
How? By arguing that the cheerleaders are not private speakers but government speakers. According to the district’s appellate brief:
KISD’s [Kountze ISD’s] principal argument on appeal is that it is entitled to governmental immunity, because the messages on the run-through banners are government speech. As KISD reasons, if the messages are government speech, then the cheerleaders do not have any First Amendment rights to assert and their constitutional claims fail (p. 5).
As One News Now reported:
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute [see here], explains the school is appealing [Hardin County Judge Steven] Thomas’ decision, claiming the cheerleaders' speech is not protected by the First Amendment because it's "government speech."
"It's the strangest thing I've ever seen, but they're claiming that the cheerleaders are a part of the government and they can control their speech, which is totally outrageous," says the attorney. "There's never been a case in this country that has ever held that."
Exactly. In fact, back in 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, “The child is not the mere creature of the State.” If those words don’t bring solace to the brave Texas cheerleaders and their families, maybe these words will:
“What shall we then say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us.” (Romans 8:31)