At Public Hearing Over Kountze High School Bible Banners, One Brave Atheist Woman Speaks Out Against Them

Last night, there was a public meeting at Kountze High School to discuss the religious banners used by cheerleaders to pump up the football team, like the ones below:

Initially, Superintendent Kevin Weldon told the cheerleaders to stop with the Bible banners, but in October, a judge temporarily ruled in favor of the cheerleaders, allowing them to continue hoisting the banners until this summer when a final decision could be issued.

Which brings us to last night. The Kountze Independent School District school board hosted a public meeting to discuss reinstating that ban.

They weren’t going to make a decision of any sort, but they wanted to hear what the public thought.

Lindsey Brackin, a 2005 graduate of the high school, was there, and she spoke out against the Bible banners. Her speech — the only one out of 17 speeches supporting church/state separation — was fantastic — an excerpt from it is below. She also appears around the 2:43 mark in this news clip:

No one is trying to persecute these students for their beliefs. They have a First Amendment right to read their bibles, pray, wear crosses, and express their religion in many other individual and group ways while at school. There are several religious organizations on campus for this purpose. If they wanted to hold individual religious signs in the bleachers or off field, they would be very much within their rights. The problem occurs when one team forces another team to make a public proclamation of their faith on the football field. High school is hard enough without added peer pressure to participate in something that you don’t necessarily believe in.

I understand why students and their parents are afraid to join the FFRF’s lawsuit against the banners — I myself have been threatened with bodily harm for speaking out against this religious bullying, and I saw a sign posted in the middle of town stating “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT LEAVE- WE BELIEVE!”. As a non Christian who was born and raised here, I am appalled that people are insinuating you must buy in to this religious fervor to live here. I can not imagine how the non Christian students in this school feel after seeing and hearing such hatred, but I am sure they are honestly frightened and bewildered. One in four people in the U.S. are not Christian — it is irrational to try and present this school as being made up entirely of Christian students. A public school should be a safe haven for students of ALL religions, and non religions, not a pulpit for one group to try and push their agenda.

Please remember that while THIS particular group of cheerleaders appear to be in agreement on allowing religious statements on the run through banners, some of them will graduate and be replaced by new students. What will the reaction be if that student is a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist? What if she does not want religious statements on the run through banners? Will she be removed from the team? I hope the parents here are able to put themselves in the shoes of others and see the long term negative consequences that their actions will have on this school and its students for years to come.

If I could give Lindsey a standing ovation, I would. (Oh, screw it. I don’t care if I’m sitting on my couch right now. I’m doing it, anyway.)

That had to take an incredible amount of courage, being in the middle of a room full of people almost all of whom absolutely oppose her perfectly sensible ideas.

She adds that the board decided to extend the time for public comments another 10 days, so feel free to send your (polite, respectful) thoughts to Administrative Assistant Jerri Smith so she can pass them along to the board.

This has nothing to do with infringing students’ free speech and everything to do with preventing a public school from endorsing Christianity over other faiths and no faith. If the district cares about its students — and is brave enough not to cave in to angry, Christian locals — they’ll do the right thing and keep the Bible banner ban in place.

But this is Texas. Is anyone that optimistic?

(Thanks to Kacy for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • 3lemenope

    If God is for us, who can be against us?

    The other team?

    • SeekerLancer

      I know right? You’d think even if their opponents were, and probably most are, Christians themselves that they’d take some serious offense to that one.

    • Stev84

      It’s thinking like that justifies religious war and any number of atrocities. With god on your side anything is permitted.

    • allein

      I laughed out loud when I read this comment, because I thought the exact same thing when I saw the picture. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.staceysjodin Michelle Stacey Sjödin

      I was thinking the same thing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    I’d allow a compromise that they can have bible verses as long as they are picked by non-christians.

    • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

      Isn’t that basically what Republicans are trying to do with the sequester?

      • baal

        eh, nearly but not quite. The (R) want all the cuts but are willing to lets the depts do the ‘where.’ Current sequester is flat across all segments. The (R) still win since they like making things break and not paying for what they already bought. Dems don’t really get anything out of that.

        In Gordon’s offer, I, as an atheist would get a huge awesome out of it. Ezekiel lover’s emissions (like a donkey!), the verse with dildos made from silver or gold, the verse about losing since the other team has iron chariots, or even one of the ‘begats’ (i could go on) would all make me extremely happy to see up on a banner before a football game with full blessings of the local government (school).

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          Wait, wait, there are bible verses about silver (or gold) dildos?

          Where?

          • 3lemenope

            (Ezekiel 16:17) You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them.

            Of course, it’s Jerusalem’s dildo, so it’s SFW.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              Ohhhh, there’s a PWP in that verse!

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              OMG! I have GOT to remember that for later, for talking to Christians …

  • Octoberfurst

    The Christian’s sense of entitlement is appalling. They think they have the right and the duty to cram their religion down everyone’s throats because that is what the baby Jesus wants. Ugh!

  • Jessica Suave

    That sounds like the school here. If you go into the office, there are crosses all over the walls, and I’ve actually gotten a recorded message inviting me to come to school Monday morning for “prayer at the flag”… the speaker was the principal. However, if I were to say anything I’d probably wake up with my house on fire by the “good Christians”, so I just tell the kid to roll with it…. some day she’ll be long gone.

    • Mario Strada

      Take pictures. Post them everywhere. Make sure you are not caught.

    • Gary

      Jessica, you can report a complaint to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and remain anonymous. They’ll send a letter to the school, which often takes care of the problem.

  • John_in_Vegas

    Oh, how I yearn for the day when atheists do not have to be brave and courageous, but simply educated. Save the heroic descriptors for those who truly deserve them-our service men and women, firefighters, police officers and others in public service. They will appreciate it more too.

    • WoodyTanaka

      How about, instead, we judge each person by his or her actions and not the job descriptor. Few of people in the groups you mentioned are heroes and those groups contain a ton of evil, bad folks.

      • John_in_Vegas

        Actually, that was my point. Many people deserve to be admired, yet very few people exhibit qualities that are truly heroic. If we want to recognize brave and courageous behavior, the most likely places to find it should be among the military, our police forces, firefighters and similar groups. We should not have to recognize it in a atheist’s speech. I long for the day when that is no longer true.

        • WoodyTanaka

          Yes, and my point is that you grossly overstate the number of “heroes “in those groups. And, in doing so, grossly understate the number of evil people who are in those groups. Especially among military and police.

    • AxeGrrl

      John, I think it’s safe to say that everyone here agrees that firefighters, etc are heroic ~ the point you seem to be missing is that there are different forms of heroism and that one doesn’t need to be risking one’s life in order to be ‘heroic’.

      And standing up, alone, in a crowd full of believers, to disagree with their expression of their religious belief in a public school setting requires a degree of heroism, imo. Even if it’s not ‘as’ heroic (since you seem to insist on qualifying this based on ‘degree of danger’) as saving someone from a burning building.

      Kudos to Lindsey! I think she did a FAB job :)

      • John_in_Vegas

        I’m not missing any point. I am trying to make one. As an atheist and a gay man, I am well aware of how frustratingly difficult, and dangerous it can be when certain religious groups want to tell me how to live my life. I have been cut off from family members, bullied, beaten up, and even fired from a job.

        Absolutely, Lindsey is brave and courageous and a true hero to all. More importantly, she is also an educated woman living in America. Under the constitution, she is entitled to attend a public school free from unwanted religious endorsements and encumberments-a right that seems to be enjoyed by Christians and other religious groups without regard to valor.

        I was simply longing for the day when an atheist could be recognized for her ideals and aspirations rather than her courage.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    It’s important to note that Lindsey and Kacy have been approached by others who don’t want the banners, but are genuinely afraid of speaking out. One in particular signed up to speak at that meeting, but had to retract due to very real concern for his livelihood.

    Lindsey has a pair of ovaries we should all aspire to.

    • curtcameron

      You could correctly say that Lindsey has a quite a pair of gonads.

    • Claude

      Seriously, hats off.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.staceysjodin Michelle Stacey Sjödin

      Well said!

  • Rain

    So basically they want to proselytize their religion so much that they don’t care if it means that god thinks the other teams are evil or stupid. They don’t mind pretending as though they are totally oblivious to the logical consequences.

    “In America you have a right to be stupid — if you want to be.” –John Kerry

    • Pawel Samson

      John Kerry said that?

      • eonL5

        Yes, in Germany. Yesterday, I think. Either way, quite recently.

  • g

    Props to Lindsey, mad props actually.

  • Mairianna

    Yes, but did they WIN all their games with gawd on their side????

    • SweetPea

      NOPE!! They got the dog poo beat out of them more than once. Where was their gawd then? With the other team is all I can figure.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      After winning the first 4 games of the season, the lost the last 4, and they finished with a 5-5 overall record.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

        Wow! Their god is only winning 50% of the time? It is almost as if their God is doing no better then random chance. How odd…

        • Bdole

          Four of the other teams use iron cleats. And as we all know Jehovah is allergic to Fe. Judges 1:19

      • sven1948

        5 and 5? They could have done as well praying to Joe Pesci.

  • SweetPea

    I know of one girl that went to the injunction hearings that was not xtian and required a police escort out of the building to get away from the threats of harm by the so called xtians. The ones that went to the football game to peacefully protest had to involve the police when some xtian football daddy was threatening them all. They are so unlike this figment they claim to model themselves after!

    • Mario Strada

      When doing these things they should go there prepared with a camera and put it on tape. Then, after they put it on youtube we would get to read all the comments telling us they were not “True Christians™”.

  • Mario Strada

    Those banners make me wish that I played football for the opposing team and I could help pounding their team to the ground. I think it would be a lot of fun.

    • rustygh

      Mario, I can’t thumbs up that statement but I fully understand the emotion!

  • C Peterson

    Every time I see this and similar stories, I’m simply astounded by the anti-Christian and anti-humanist consequences, and the complete inability of the participants to recognize this. It grossly devalues the opposing team- what any competent coach would call a lack of sportsmanship- to suggest that God would take sides, or answer prayers for something as trivial as a game. This isn’t a war, with lives and beliefs at stake! The suggestion that being more god loving will cause it to reward you with a win is really saying that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the members of the other team. And that team is just a bunch of similar folks from the next school down the road. Neighbors.

    Furthermore, it disrespects the abilities of the players themselves. Perhaps they are not competent, and their practice has been futile. Apparently, competence and skill are not requirements; all that is required to win is a sufficiently pious prayer at the beginning, and an ostentatiously pious cheerleading squad.

    The open display of religion at this school reflects a moral cancer shot through its population, and provides a very graphic example of the ways in which religion promotes poor ethical choices.

  • rustygh

    We MUST push for federal and state laws that ban religion in schools!

    • baal

      If only someone had noticed the problems of established religions and wrote the solution into our foundational documents!

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Oh, wait…

        • rustygh

          No not wait. The constitution says separation. We need new law that bans all religion from our educational systems as to not taint the learning process.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindsey.m.brackin Lindsey Marie Brackin

    Hi Hemant! Thank you so much for your awesome coverage of my statement at the public hearing in Kountze- the overwhelming support truly means a lot to me, especially after how terrified i was last night. I think you can see my papers shaking in my hand in the video.

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

      I was to busy listening to the awesome words you spoke to notice any papers shaking. Thank you for being the one to stand up and speak the truth.

    • baal

      You were extremely brave and I salute you for it!

      (while hoping the fall out you’ll have to pay for it is minimal)

    • fromthearea

      I just wanted to say that I grew up in the area, and as someone who struggled with the concept of faith and is now an atheist, I fully understand what you’re going through. What they’re doing isn’t right, but they can’t see it because they live in a bubble where everyone believes the way they do — except for the ones who are too afraid to talk about it because of the social ostracism you receive for doing so.

      What you did was incredibly brave and I can’t imagine going back to my home town in front of my Christian mother and telling everyone she still associates with that I’m an atheist and what they’re doing is wrong. I like to think I’d do it anyway, but what goes on in Vidor really doesn’t affect me anymore and doing that would seriously damage her social standing in town.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lindsey.m.brackin Lindsey Marie Brackin

        IsVidor?! Dude thats all you need to say… they still do prayer over the intercoms at football games and have KKK rallies. i dont mess with Vidorians. Im proud that you made it out and became a free thinker though! People do not realize how many of us there are because we usually stay quiet, but i dont think thats an option anymore. Kids are being bullied and threatened, and i cant be quiet with that going on. They may treat me like an outcast at social gatherings and write untruths about me, but damnit, now they lnow that not everyone in this area supports their religious bullshit!

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      *raises bong in salute*

      You rock.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.staceysjodin Michelle Stacey Sjödin

      I am so proud to know you!

    • Sindigo

      Just wanted to express my admiration. Well done.

    • AxeGrrl

      *applauding* you did a GREAT job, Lindsey :) thank you for standing up!

    • Drew M.

      For the record, you’re pretty bad ass.

    • ecolt

      I have to join with everyone else in applauding your bravery. I live and work in a small town where bigotry and religious fervor is the norm, and I keep my mouth shut on a near daily basis when I hear the disgusting things people around me are saying. Partly it’s because I rely on tips for my income, and outing myself as a super-liberal atheist would be financial suicide, but partly it’s just because I really fear the confrontation that would result. So I totally understand that it took real guts to stand up in front of a largely hostile audience and defend your beliefs (or lack thereof…).

      Keep up the good fight. Hopefully other rational people in your community will be inspired by your actions and muster the courage to speak out themselves.

  • Cat’s Staff

    It would be interesting to see if anyone recorded the whole thing… “We’re called to share the word”… thank you for helping make a case that it’s religiously motivated. I notice in these cases they usually end up incriminating themselves if you just listen to them long enough.

  • Texan

    [sigh]. Once again, a guy in Chicago makes blankets statements about what Texas is like. Yes, we deserve a lot of the crap we get. But Texas is a big place, with mountains and deserts and forests and beaches. It is mostly true that small towns and rural districts like Kountze will continue to cling to their sense of Christian entitlement without regard to what is right or legal.

    But urban areas here aren’t that much different than cities anywhere: some people will always spit and sputter when Christians don’t get their way, but we generally obey the laws when it comes to church/state separation. In fact, I recently called out my sister, who used a bible verse as her sig line on her school email account. She discussed it with her superintindent and he (reluctantly) advised her to remove it even though nobody ever threatened to sue AFAIK.

    I feel like one of those people who can’t resist feeding the trolls, but I have to speak up when I see this kind of bias and prejudice toward my state in a forum that routinely calls people out for their prejudice and bias. Christians are acting badly here and deserve our scorn. That they happen to be Texan is incidental and irrelevant.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      this is correct. my home states of IL and MI are currently run by religious nutbags thanks to gerrymandering, and they are as northern Union as they come. at the same time, i know more TX liberals than i do from any other state, from my blogging activities at gaii, liberal, and political blogs.

      i’m all for breaking up america. i really am. sometimes i think it’s the only way this second civil war will be ended. i am sick and tired of religious nutbags in government and education and policy telling me how to live. and i find it ironic, as a former northern resident, to live now in a state where there are jobs, unlike in the north, because northern states pay more taxes than southern ones, who enjoy the benefits of receiving that extra money northern states provide.

      so let’s just agree to disagree. let’s have a massive relocation program. let’s let all the nutbags live in “new dixie” or something, and enjoy global climate change that they don’t believe in. let’s let all the sensible people live in the north, where industry and reason prevail and there are great lakes filled with water, and the separation of church and state is iron clad. i am so not kidding about this.

      • Texan

        Yeah, but I like it here. It isn’t as hard as you might think to avoid the religious/conservative nutbags.

      • http://www.facebook.com/autumnsfantasy Jennifer Anker

        Except I hate cold weather. So flip it. Send the loons to freeze, let the sane play in the warmth.

  • If only

    They need a second banner after the “If god is for us” one, which says, “but since he probably doesn’t care about our little game, we’re on our own.”

  • ricardo g

    Hey, Hemant. Yours is an Insightful blog which I read every day.

    But could you please NOT degrade Texas? We’re not all bible thumpers. I live in Houston. We’ve elected an openly gay mayor…..twice! No other major American city can say that. Our atheist community is one of the largest in the country. And we now may even be the most ethnically diverse city in the U.S.

    I get your drift. Crazy stuff happens in Texas. Remember: it’s a big state, with diversity of opinion. Stereotypes are unnecessary.

    • Texan

      Also home of the most active Green Party in Tx.

      • AxeGrrl

        It’s also home to ‘The Atheist Experience’ :)

  • allein

    I like the one girl’s comment about how this is forcing them to grow up so fast. Excuse me while I wipe away my tears. They’re getting a civics lesson. If they got a better education in the subject in the first place, maybe they would understand why what they’re doing is wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.staceysjodin Michelle Stacey Sjödin

    pardon the pun but, thank “God” for people like Lindsey, or anyone of us may end up in a position to have a religion forced upon us

    • Simon J Coyle

      I’m in Oz and we don’t get this kind of crap happening; conversely the boot would literally be on the other foot (all puns intended) but instead of saying “Thank ‘God’” just thank Lindsey for using her innate intelligence and having the ‘nads (Oz slang for gonads) to stand up to this kind of bullying.

  • Robyman4

    I could be against them, that’s for damn sure. I’ve never been physically challenged/threatened by a crazy Christian but I’d relish the chance to get in a scrap with one of them. Can Jesus freaks really fight? Or do they just run their mouths? Hopefully one day I’ll get a definitive answer – I’m betting that since I’m strong, fast, very fit and have a few years of Krav Maga training, I would need about 5 seconds to knock a few of their teeth out.

  • kaydenpat

    Good for Ms. Brackin. Takes courage to be the only voice in dissent — especially after being threatened with physical violence.


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