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Revelations: Cheerleaders capture victory of faith in school

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS
May 10, 2013 at 12:10 a.m.


A few months ago, I wrote a pro-con article about the Kountze High School cheerleaders - and the lawsuit they filed against the school district for preventing the display of Christian run-through banners at football games.

They won their case this week.

The court's summary judgement order stated, "Neither the Establishment Clause nor any other law requires Kountze I.S.D. to prohibit the inclusion of religious-themed banners at school sporting events."

The case caught the attention of a national audience last fall and stirred a heated debate nationwide about the separation of church and state when the district's Superintendent Kevin Weldon halted the banners following a threat of legal action from Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

While collecting information for my story and trying to get people to go on the record about what they thought of the Kountze cheerleaders' banners, I learned then how squeamish people are about discussing religion in public schools.

Bringing up the subject was like swinging open a large door with a bunch of opinionated people banging on it from the other side. They all had something to say and wanted to tell me passionately their true feelings about religion in school. But many didn't want to be named publicly.

The other side of that coin was that people would talk but only far enough to tell me they support all religions and don't discriminate against anyone's faith in school.

It was a nice sentiment, I suppose. But it wasn't honest. It's the politically correct answer that would never hold up in a real life scenario - like when the Kountze cheerleaders hold up a Christian run-through banner at a football game.

People these days are fearful to discuss religion in school. And it's become such a complex issue that students have to sue their school districts for educators to become informed about what their students' religious rights are.

The Kountze cheerleaders - who paid for their own materials, met on their own time and decided as Christians outside of the leadership of the school's administration or staff to make the Bible-inspired banner - were being told they couldn't express religious views on school grounds, wearing school uniforms. They were being silenced. Their religious freedoms challenged.

For those against the cheerleader's banners and the "Tyranny of the religious majority" it seemed their ideas about the constitutionality of religion in schools was based on little more than American history hearsay, a fear of lawsuits, political incorrectness or a desire to remove God (of all varieties) from school.

That's their right. They are allowed to have those opinions. But we need to be able to function in a modern society without rewriting history, or our Constitution either.

I know I may have a slightly biased view about religion in schools because I enjoy religion and religion education; I'm not afraid to learn about world religions and juxtapose it against my own.

And I feel religion studies have a place in public school curriculum on all levels. As a former high school cheerleader and Christian, I'm not at all threatened by religious run-through banners.

If the sign had a positive Hindu or Islamic message written on the front, I would be equally admiring of the cheerleaders' efforts to support their football players.

When I interviewed in November, the squad's counsel, Mike Johnson, who was then working for the Liberty Institute in Plano, he said he was confident the case would swing positively in their favor when the case went to trial in June. Simply stated, he knew the cheerleaders were within their right to display the run-through signs.

There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents religion and religion education in school, he said. In fact, once upon a time, and not so long ago, religion education was encouraged in public school institutions.

As one of my favorite Biola University professors, Kevin Lewis, pointed out in one of my recent articles on religion education in public schools, "When did the Constitution change? It didn't," he said.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I believe if we could figure out a way learn more about one another, our faiths, our cultures, our understanding of existence, fewer wars would be fought, and people would be less fearful of their foreign neighbors.

And I think if a bunch of Christian cheerleaders want to paint an uplifting Bible Scripture on a sign they bought with their own money and wave it high at a football game to encourage their players, they should be allowed to that.

I welcome students of all faiths to be so outspoken. Why are we hiding from each other?

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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