Texas Attorney General: I Support the Cheerleaders and Their Bible-Banners

Remember how the Freedom From Religion Foundation asked the Kountze Independent School District to stop letting cheerleaders hold run-through banners at football games with Bible verses on them?

Now, the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is getting involved. Yesterday, he sent a letter (PDF) to Kountze ISD Superintendent Kevin Weldon “offering assistance” to them:

I write to offer my assistance and to provide advice about a menacing and misleading letter you recently received from an organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). That organization has a long history of attempting to bully school districts into adopting restrictive religious speech policies that go well beyond what is required by the United States Constitution. Consistent with that history, the letter you received incorrectly claims that allowing Kountze High School cheerleaders to display banners decorated with Bible verses at football games amounts to a “serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.” That exaggerated claim is not supported by the Constitution. Instead, it is based solely on FFRF’s distorted, anti-religion view of the First Amendment, a view that is unsupported by court precedent and has recently been rejected by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Think about it: Can a school district or the Freedom From Religion Foundation stop a student from making the sign of the cross before taking a test, or stop football players from pointing toward heaven after scoring a touchdown or kneeling to pray for an injured teammate? Of course not. Just like the cheerleaders’ banners, such public displays of religion are voluntary expressions of the students’ beliefs and are not attributable to the school district.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently vindicated these legal principles—and rejected FFRF’s restrictive view of the First Amendment — in a case involving Medina Valley ISD in Castroville, Texas. In May 2011, a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against Medina Valley in an attempt to prevent student speakers from praying as part of their speech at their graduation ceremony. My office supported the school district by arguing that the First Amendment does not require public schools to interfere with students’ right to freely express their religious beliefs. A unanimous panel of three federal appeals judges ruled in favor of the school district and permitted Medina Valley High School seniors to pray at their graduation ceremony…

That last bit is an absolute distortion of the facts.

In that particular case, the Appeals Court initially voted in favor of the school district. But after Americans United filed an amended complaint a few months later — with additional details they had discovered — the two sides resolved their differences through a settlement agreement. (AU explains how this all went down in far more detail here.)

Hardly a unanimous victory in favor of religion.

I’m amazed that the Attorney General wants to get involved in a case that has been settled time and time again. FFRF wins these cases all the time because they’re right on the issues and the judges know it.

You can’t endorse religion as representatives of your public school. Your principal can’t lead the staff in prayer at a faculty meeting. The administration can’t begin a graduation ceremony with a Christian prayer. And cheerleaders can’t promote the Bible at a football game.

Individually, they can do whatever they want. When they’re competing/performing as part of a public school athletic team, they can’t.

But Greg Abbott is ready to file a brief on behalf of the school district… because promoting faith is more important to him than upholding the law.

(Thanks to Richard for the link)

***Update***: Well, shit, this comment on Facebook, on a post about this story, is just frightening:

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.