Changes have been made to reflect the evolving situation…
UPDATE: Today Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Kountze ISD Superintendent stating, “That these students chose to express their religious viewpoint at a school function does not violate the Establishment Clause.” Abbott informed the KISD official that he was being misled by the Freedom From Religion Foundation as well as the Texas Association of SChool Boards. The letter concludes, “my office stands ready to file a brief with the court protecting the cheerleaders' religious liberties.”
The Liberty Institute whose mission is to “defend and restore religious liberty across America — in our schools”, provided some high-powered help to cheerleaders and their parents after Kountze ISD officials banned scripture based run-throughs during football games. The evangelical group with close ties to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, has now started a petition to demand Texas Attorney Greg Abbott support the cheerleaders’ right to “cheer on their football team without government censorship”.
This may be some insight into how Republicans plans to posture themselves politically next session as the legislature will be considerably more conservative. The cheerleaders have already received the public support of their State Representative and Tea Party doll James White. Earlier this year White beat out a more moderate but favorited Republican Committee Chair after they were paired in redistricting. That loss, as well as Cruz’ defeat of Dewhurst, show the achilles heel of the Texas Republican establishment – there is no middle ground. The establishment has been chipped away at from the inside and within its own primary, pushing even state-wide officials to the right. Groups like Texans for Fiscal Accountability that have challenged RINOs and Moderates in the Republican ranks, now have groups like Stop TLR challenging even their conservative credentials. This poses a problem for Republicans who placated to the Tea Party to win their primary but think they can get reelected without taking strong stances on controversial social issues.
The Liberty Institute and the Family Reseach Council have recently started a new website called ReligiousHostility.org to document what they feel are attacks on religious freedom across America. The groups have been promoting alarmist ideas of Christian victimization stating, “attacks are increasing at an unprecedented rate”. Choosing to exploit people’s faith for political gain could prove disasterous for the Republican Party if moderates, attracted by an economic message, become ostracized. The cheerleaders, their parents and even members of the football team profess to be the victims of government overreach but they are now facing growing opposition and an active letter writing campaign in support of the district's decision. A secular group of students from nearby Vidor High School spoke out against the official display religious banners. Junior Darren Mattox told KFDM News,
My initial thought was that I do support it, but when you dig deeper into it, you realize that they are representing the school and that it's not really Constitutionally right for them to represent the school in that manner,
The national Freedom From Religion Foundation is the organization that sparked the controversy when it sent a letter to Kountze ISD on Sept. 17th calling for an end to the "serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment." The group said, "No Student should be made to run through a religious banner. The practice offends non-Christians and non-believers alike." The actions of the students violate the law as interpreted in Sante Fe Independent School District vs. Doe in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that speech,
More below the jump…
on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school's public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer,
are not private, but public speech. Furthermore it concluded that,
Regardless of the listener's support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pre game prayer as stamped with her school's seal of approval.
In other words such actions by students in an official capacity violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Despite the letter of the law the Liberty Institute continues to claim,
This is a quintessential example of students private speech being censored unnecessarily by uninformed school officials. This is a well-established principle of constitutional law that students don’t have to shed their constitutional rights of free speech when they enter the schoolhouse gate.
For those interested in the facts, students of any creed or religious are free to express their faith on signs from the stands or as a part of non-school sponsored activities. Instead of informing misguided citizens and taxpayers about the Establishment Clause and its purpose of ensuring separation of church and state, conservative politicians are flirting with a powder keg of political clout that could blow up in their face. Republicans will have to decide to stand for the rights of all Texans or sucumb to the forces pulling his party apart from the right.