New York Times Editorial Sides Against Kountze Christian Cheerleaders

The New York Times had two pieces yesterday about the Kountze High School cheerleaders and their Bible-promoting banners.

The first focused on Kevin Weldon, the superintendent of the district. Weldon has personally supported the cheerleaders but still feels the law says otherwise:

Mr. Weldon, 53, is in a position that few superintendents in small-town Texas have found themselves: taking a stand on religious expression that has put him at odds with the majority of his students and his neighbors, not to mention the governor, the attorney general and, some in Kountze believe, his God.

“Myself and the board have said all along that we do not have a problem with the kids doing what they’re doing,” Mr. Weldon said. “We’re not hostile against any type of religion, but we also want to make sure as a school district that we’re following the law.

The second is an editorial siding against the Christian cheerleaders:

Those banners are not merely personal expressions of belief, but in that setting become religious messages endorsed by the school, the school district and the local government.

Texas’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, intervened to support the cheerleaders and Gov. Rick Perry endorsed the move. “If you think about it,” the governor said, “the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call a little attention to their faith and to their Lord.”

These officials are blind to the dangers to religious freedom when government shifts from being neutral about religion to favoring a particular one.

It’s a travesty that a district judge has allowed the banners to be hoisted at games for the time being. It’d be worse, though, if the courts agree to that next summer when the trial begins.

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.

  • compl3x

    Always good to see god has his own cheer squad.

    Christian sense of entitlement. Clear and simple.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I love it when Christians call their own un-Christian and anti-Christian because a Christian wants to follow the law of man and not of their god.

  • treedweller

    I defend Texas often, but not this time. I wrote to the AG and got no response (other than his continued public support of what I argued against, bolstered by appearances from our well coiffed leader. I have been in communities like this, and I believe most of these people truly think they are standing up for the lord. But I also believe they are smart enough to recognize they must allow for dissenting viewpoints, so I continue to press my case at every opportunity. Sadly, I expect relief in this case to come from federal courts, rather than from the enlightenment of my neighbors. But some of us already oppose tacit endorsement of religion by gov’t, and more of us will come around.

  • Ryan

    As usual, you only have to ask yourself what the reaction would be like if this squad wanted to display Koran verses before games. Just like when Louisiana lawmakers voted to have taxpayers fund religious schools – then when they realized that not all religious schools are Christian, they changed their mind, or even worse, tried to fund only Christian schools.

    The double standard of Christian politicians is so abundantly clear, I would think even they could see it. Eventually the courts at some level will put a stop to this. But the Christians will only see it as another battle scar in the “war on Christianity”, and display it proudly, like the martyrs they claim to be.

  • Comeon

    Wait wait wait – the New York Times takes the liberal perspective in a contentious political/social matter?!?!

    [Yes, I am an atheist and I agree that is against the law.  But who cares?  Aren't there more important matters than interloping in the affairs of some tiny little Texas town whose population is probably 99% Christian?  And more importantly, many people in these rural towns simply need Christianity as a basic foundation for life - or are you going to argue that they should mimick their pointy-headed intellectual betters and use "scientism" as a proxy social edifice?]

    • Silentbob

      Nobody is trying to take Christianity away from the people of this town, much less impose “scientism” on them. They are free to practise their religion in church, in their homes, in public as long as they don’t try to impose it on anyone else. Every single citizen is perfectly free to spend all their personal time reciting bible verses and wearing “I love Jesus” t-shirts if they want to. But not the school.

      The school is rightly required by law to represent students of all religious faiths equally, and therefore to remain religiously neutral.

      Even if the students were 100% Christian this is still important. Because once you allow exceptions, you are setting a precedent. Don’t kid yourself that if the door is opened a crack, Christians will hesitate to put their foot in it and start leaning on the door. Hard.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Yes, I am an atheist and I agree that is against the law.

      Really? It’s odd to hear an atheist use the same fallacious arguments against obeying the law and the First Amendment that I hear privileged Christians use all the time. For instance:

      But who cares?

      The rhetorical version of that question means that you don’t care that it’s against the law. I hope that trait is not widespread in you. It’s not a very flattering thing to reveal about yourself.  The information-seeking version of that question is you are wondering if others do care. Yes, people who respect the law care. People who value the Constitution and the First Amendment care. People care who understand that religious freedom for everyone means no government-sanctioned religious endorsement or privilege for anyone. People who see  our democracy being nibbled away every day in thousands of cases like this across the country care.

      Aren’t there more important matters than interloping in the affairs of some tiny little Texas town whose population is probably 99% Christian?

      No, there aren’t more important matters, because this mentality is widespread. It doesn’t matter if the whole town is 100% Christian and they even cram themselves into one single church. The majority does not rule. The Constitution rules, and much of it is written to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. If the majority ruled, this country would be a nightmare of tiny little tyrannies, with every town voting anybody they don’t like for any reason either out of town or to the lynching tree.

      And more importantly, many people in these rural towns simply need Christianity as a basic foundation for life – or are you going to argue that they should mimick their pointy-headed intellectual betters and use “scientism” as a proxy social edifice?

      You’re an atheist? This is a false dichotomy often employed by anti-intellectual fundies who like to portray ignorance as a virtue and education as suspicious and corrupting. Even if your premise, which is dubious, were to be accepted, such an either-or choice is not required by the situation. If these people are getting their “basic foundation for life” from their religion, they won’t suffer any loss of vitality by practicing it in their homes, in their church, and even on a soapbox on the sidewalk, but not on government property, or with taxpayer money, or with the actual or implied endorsement of any government agency.

      • Blacksheep

        “against the law” is a tricky one – I would not want someone personally tracking me down and perhaps suing me for breaking a law. There are plenty of strange, petty, and obscure laws on the books. It should have more to do with others in the community complaining, not an outsider scrutinizing when the law has been broken. 
        For example, C Peterson, below, states “No offense is too small to require redress.” Aside from sounding like a fascist, I don’t think he believes that. There are countless laws on the books that are easily broken – atheists would be furious if someone “came over to their house” and enforced them.

        I get the sentiment, but it truly comes across as petty and mean spirited.

        • Antinomian

          Yep, that establishment clause was so petty that our founders buried it in the First Amendment.

        • Birdie1986

          Nobody has to go to their homes and track them down.  Part of the issue is that they are breaking the law openly on government-owned property, in their capacity as representatives of a government-run school athletic program.  Also, who is the “outsider” that is scrutnitizing?  The law that was broken is the law of the United States.  If Kountze, TX doesn’t want to follow the law of the United States, it can secede (like their Governor would want the State to secede).

          Also, I hope you don’t actually think that The First Amendment is a “strange, petty, and obscure law.”

    • Kamenrider Tiki

       I have to ask, what is “Scientism”?  I’ve head of Scientology which is utter bull shit.  I’m guessing that this is either a) an off shoot, or b) You mean that instead of having faith in pixies or what not that these people would follow scientific principles.  And if that is the case the only answer I can give you is a resounding “uh, DUH!”

      • Sindigo

        Scientism is a bullshit term,  made-up by those who wish to bash anyone who chooses reason over myth by co-opting the language we use to frame the debate.

        OP, I don’t care what you call yourself on here. When you use the word “scientism”, your theism shows.

        • Willy Occam

          <<>>

          Damn straight!  It’s like those idiots who claim they are not “evolutionists”… as if they have any say in the matter.  If I decide I no longer want to be a gravitationalist, does that mean I can fly? 

    • Thumper1990

      “And more importantly, many people in these rural towns simply need Christianity as a basic foundation for life ”

      I hate this argument and always have. Essentially what you’re saying is “Of course, we smart people know better and can do without religion, but the plebs and the hoi-palloi are too weak-minded and feeble to ever do without it”. It’s so patronising. Either you are not really an atheist and you’re just saying what you think we’re all thinking, or you are incredibly arrogant. Neither is a good position for you to be in.

      • Bryan

         ^This.

    • Gary B

      Can you imagine how much religion would be in our government and schools if we just ignored all these seemingly minor infringements?

    • Willy Occam

       “Yes, I am an atheist…”

      Yeah, and I’m the friggin’ Tooth Fairy.

    • CultOfReason

      Poe’s Law in action.  If you are going to pretend to be an atheist, at least try and make it believable.

      • Blacksheep

        Wait – so a reasonable atheist is a Poe? Love it.

        • CultOfReason

           A reasonable atheist understands that violation of the first amendment is not a trivial matter.

          A reasonable atheist understands that christianity is not really needed as a “basic foundation for life”

          And finally, a reasonable atheist will not use insults and made up terms like “pointy-headed intellectual” and 
          “scientism” to disparage the educated.

          But I’m sure you already knew that.

          • Sindigo

            Well said.

    • C Peterson

      Aren’t there more important matters than interloping in the affairs of
      some tiny little Texas town whose population is probably 99% Christian?

      Nothing is more important than standing up for our fundamental rights. Every violation that is ignored simply pushes things a bit farther in the wrong direction. No offense is too small to require redress.

      Perhaps you’d say the same if we started requiring Jews to live in special areas of cities. After all, they only represent 1% of the population. Surely, there are more important matters than interloping in the affairs of some tiny little minority?

    • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

      You can take back the strawmen you pulled out of the collection you keep in your basement, you ridiculous turdcorn.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QOSCDCTNUAV4XT4RFJT27FZ7CQ stocketrader24

    I think the cheerleaders should offer hand jobs, that would be a better and more tangible motivater

  • Debra Johnson

    Greg Abbott said something so painfully ironic that it bears repeating, and he deserves to be shamed for it: “We will not be forced to bow down to the altar of secular beliefs.” I’m still sputtering and fuming over here.

  • Thumper1990

    Everyone in the area opposed to this should just turn up at their games holding banners and signs with Qur’anic verses on. And then when someone gets pissy, point out that as a member of the public there in no official capacity you have every right to be doing wat you’re doing… but that what’s going on on the field is illegal.

    Might open a few eyes. Also might get you beaten up, but what’s life without a little risk? :)

  • CultOfReason

    Where is The National Center for Law & Policy to help remove this egregious violation of the first amendment…Oh right, they’re too busy trying to remove Yoga exercises from school.

  • John S

    A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times took the side of the cheerleaders, even through the author firmly believes in the separation of Church and Sate. His reasoning was that the decision to make religious banners was made by the cheerleaders and football team, not the school. Also, the materials they used were purchased by them, not the school. Therefore, it was a personal expression of those directly involved.

    It is something to consider.

    • Willy Occam

       This argument works perfectly up to a point: the minute they put those uniforms on and walk out onto the football field, they are now representatives of the public, taxpayer-supported school.  If prosthelytizing is so important to them, they should quit the cheerleader squad and waive their banners from the stands. 

    • Gary B

      It’s a fair point, because the Supreme Court, in the Santa Fe case from 2000, did cite the fact that the prayer was school initiated as one reason for ruling against it.  But another reason they cited was the fact that the prayer gave the impression of being endorsed by the school.  Not because it was school initiated, but because of the context in which the religious message was delivered by the students (on school property, as part of a school-sponsored event, and under the supervision of school faculty).  It’s entirely possible that a court (even the Supreme Court) could put more weight on the “student-initiated” part than the “perceived endorsement” part, but I highly doubt it.

  • Hitro

    Free Speech…gimme a S…gimme an A…gimme a T…gimme another A…gimme an N
    Gooooooo SATAN.  No doubt Mr Weldon would support this speech 100%  


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