By Tasia Morgan
American public schools are institutions where people hold diverse, religious, cultural, and political views. Perhaps the one issue that has generated the most controversy is speech. In East Texas, Kountze High School recently found itself in the conflicts that can occur when government regulations and freedom of religion collide. Whether or not football teams and cheerleaders can promote religion at public school events has stirred up quite a controversy at Kountze High School. After officials of the district banned them from utilizing Bible excerpts in their pep-rally, these students took legal action arguing that their banners are merely an expression of freedom of speech that is supported by their First Amendment right.
While these students have the right to freedom of expression, according to a Supreme Court ruling inSanta Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe – 530 U.S. 290 (2000) the school district does have the power to reinforce the separation between church and state. Therefore, at a public institution, the school district can no longer recognize these banners as freedom of expression because it places an infringement on the rights of those students who do not believe in Christianity and violates the Establishment Clause also supported under the First Amendment. In other words, “…religious messages [become] endorsed by the school, the school district and the local government” which does not implement a fair working environment for those who do not believe in the religion being endorsed (“Faith, Football and the First Amendment”).
As of now, the district court in Matthews v. KISD has granted to plaintiff cheerleaders and football players a temporary injunction so they can keep using the Bible verses. However the full case will be heard in June.
Cases dealing with public school and religion have had a history of different outcomes around the country. For example, in Adler v. Duval County School Board, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided that the “Federal appellate court’s opinion and judgment was reinstated holding that the defendant school system’s policy of permitting a graduating student, elected by her class, to deliver an unrestricted message of her choice at graduation ceremonies was not facially violative of the Establishment Clause” (Adler v. Duval County School Board). This opinion was strictly enforced for two reasons:
- The speech was not subject to particular regulations that confined the topic of the student’s message and
- The policy by its terms did not invite and encourage religious messages
Therefore, the Plaintiffs were not being intentionally neglected or ostracized because the school was not directly encouraging the promotion of one religion (Alder v. Duval County School Board). In the case of Indian River School District v. Doe, “the school board had a long-standing policy of praying at its regularly scheduled meetings, which were routinely attended by students from the local school district.” Contrary to the Alder v. Duval County School Board outcome, the Plaintiffs won the case based on the violation of the Establishment Clause. Because the school implemented a policy that required prayer, this without question, violated those who did not practice Christianity (Indian River School District v. Doe).
Using these cases as a reference, the court may likely side with the football players and cheerleaders rather than the side of those students who do not support the banner signs. This outcome is more likely to follow through due to the school’s absence of involvement. The school district or board did not actually request these cheerleaders and football players to display their religious signs nor did they create a policy that enforced the students to do so. Instead, this act was strictly on the basis of free expression, these athletes made the decision to use these excerpts without the intent to exclude others. With this, their form of expression did not force non-Christian students to participate in their religious messages (it was seen, not heard). Essentially, they created these signs to provide inspiration rather than conflict, which is why most people utilize religion in the first place, for guidance. List of Sources
NY Times Articles
“Faith, Football and the First Amendment – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The NY Times, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/opinion/faith-football-and-the-first-amendment.html?ref=firstamendment
Fernandez, Manny. “Governor Perry Backs Cheerleaders in Fight Over Religious Banners – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The NY Times, 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/us/governor-perry-backs-cheerleaders-in-fight-over-religious-banners.html?_r=0
“At the Mercy of the Majority | ACLUTx.org – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.” ACLUTx.org – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.http://www.aclutx.org/2012/09/13/at-the-mercy-of-the-majority/
“Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0530_0290_ZO.html
Adler v. Duval County School Board, 250 F.3d 1330; 2001 U.S. App. LEXIS 8880; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 691. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/03/18.
Indian River School District v. Doe, 653 F.3d 256; 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 16121. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/03/18.
SANTA FE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT v. JANE DOE, 530 U.S. 290; 120 S. Ct. 2266; 147 L. Ed. 2d 295; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 4154; 68 U.S.L.W. 4525; 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4865; 2000 Daily Journal DAR 6477; 2000 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3558; 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 425. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/03/18.
CAUSE NO. 53526. Hardlin District Clerk. Oct. 18, 2012.