The Daily Pulse:

God, Football and the ACLU of TN

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported today that across the border in Georgia, cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School have been banned from using signs with overtly religious themes to open football games.

Members of the community are rallying to their cause: 

"The cheerleaders are not trying to push a religious cause, to shove religion down someone's throat," said local youth minister Brad Scott, who was LFO High's class president in 2004. "The cheerleaders are just using Scripture to show motivation and inspiration to the players and the fans."

The cheerleaders may not have been trying to "shove religion down someone's throat," but football players were literally running through the messages, which read "commit to the Lord" and "take courage and do it" (which, in their defense, could refer to a number of things) to begin the games.

But what Scott's quote assumes is that players and fans alike are motivated and inspired by the same messages, which may not be the case despite his or the cheerleaders' belief that the truths contained within their signs are universal.
Incidentally, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee released a document today to help guide teachers and administrators through thorny religious and constitutional questions.

This section on prayer at athletic events seems relevant:

In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 68 U.S. 4525 (2000), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Texas school district's policy permitting its student body to vote whether to have prayers before school football games and to elect a student chaplain to deliver the prayers over the loudspeaker violated the Establishment Clause. The Court rejected the argument that the decision to allow students to vote on the question of prayer relieved the school district of any constitutional responsibility if the students voted in favor of prayer.
As the Court explained: "[t]hese invocations are authorized by a government policy and take place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events." Id. at 4529.
The Court also concluded that the school district's ongoing and unconstitutional purpose had been to preserve the practice of prayer at football games, even though the wording of the school's policy had changed during the course of litigation to omit any specific reference to "prayer."
Finally, the Court held that the school district's policy was facially unconstitutional regardless of the outcome of any particular student vote because it allowed the majority to determine the religious rights of the minority through an election.
The Court wrote: "Such system encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens the imposition of coercion upon those students not desiring to participate in a religious exercise. Simply by establishing the school- related procedure, which entrusts the inherently nongovernmental subject of religion to a majoritarian vote, a constitutional violation has occurred."

Comments » 1

  • September 30, 2009
  • 1:15 PM
M.R. McBee writes:

What is the point of this piece? The ACLU's guidelines and the court cases mentioned are remotely associated to the original story at best.

I'm just curious why so many people seem to care today about the goings on of the Ft. Oglethorpe cheerleaders. If their community wants religious signs, good for them. If their school board decides it's a bad idea - it probably is. I think the ACLU, Fox News, and the Supreme Court should go about tackling the bigger issues that plague our society.

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