A high school in East Texas has come under fire for having its football players come out and break through a banner with biblical passages written on them. After an anonymous community member alerted the Freedom from Religion Foundation about the practice at Kountze High School action was taken against the cheerleaders who were spearheading the campaign. There is a trial set for June 24, 2013 and an injunction had been put in place until then to stop them from putting scripture on the banners.
The state has taken the side of the cheerleaders. The Attorney General’s office had a statement saying, “Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional. The State of Texas intervened in this case to defend the cheerleaders’ right to exercise their personal religious beliefs – and to defend the constitutionality of a state law that protects religious liberties for all Texans.”
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (530 U.S. 290) ruling that schools could not play student led prayers over the intercom before football games. In the “bong hits for Jesus” case, Morse v. Frederick 511 U.S. 393 (2006) the Court ruled that schools could punish students for pro-drug messages at a school-sponsored function, even if it isn’t on campus. This may be used as precedent along with the Santa Fe case in which students were using school property and facilities to play the announcements it was seen as the school promoting religion. Morse may be used to show that the school can limit religious speech even if they aren’t promoting it because it conflicts with their interests as a public institution.
It is expected for the courts to be cautious on this matter. The Texas state constitution allows for students to freely express their religious beliefs without discrimination but the issue of allowing for the expression in school complicates the matter. Although the state and the cheerleaders will argue the school isn’t promoting the scripture and that they are doing this on their own, I don’t think the court will rule in their favor. If you look at the reasoning in Santa Fe, the Court said even that in that case the prayers were “on school property, at school-sponsored events” and I think they’ll use this reasoning to disallow the scripture on the banners in
I think this is sound reasoning. The school may not directly be sponsoring the cheerleaders’ actions but it is occurring on their property during a school sponsored event that represents the general student body. The problem is that it isn’t clear if the school is endorsing religion or not by allowing this during a school sponsored event. If it is ruled they are this is unconstitutional. Obviously it won’t be until June before we find out what happens but I think that the banners will be banned.