Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Small-town case" becomes "statewide cause"

That headline borrows from a quote in yesterday's New York Times coverage of the religion-and-education controversy brewing in Kountze, Texas, population 2,115.  Last month, school officials prohibited the cheerleaders from displaying banners quoting Bible verses at the beginning of football games.  A group of fifteen cheerleaders and their parents then sued the district, claiming that the ban violated their free speech rights.  A state judge granted a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the ban, thereby permitting the cheerleaders to continue to display the banners at games.      That restraining order expires today, when the judge will consider whether to grant a temporary injunction against enforcement of the ban.  Earlier coverage of the matter is here and here.

Here's an excerpt from yesterday's story, which highlights how state officials have become involved in the matter:
[Governor Rick] Perry was joined at the Capitol here on Wednesday by the attorney general, Greg Abbott, who said the [school] district's action against the students was improper.  He argued tha thte banners were protected by a state law that requires school districts to treat student expression of religious views in the same manner as secular views.  That law, signed by Mr. Perry in 2007, is called the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act.  
The school district banned the signs, it says, based on a 2000 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which held that student-led prayers at high school football games were unconstitutional.

The story quotes Perry:
We're a nation that's built on the concept of free expression of ideas.  ... We're also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments.  If you think about it, the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call attention to their faith and to their Lord.
The story describes Perry and Abbott as appearing at a press conference in front of a banner that read, "If God is for us, who will be against us."  I believe that paraphrases a verse from the Bible.  Nevertheless, Perry assured reporters that he would be as supportive of the cheerleaders if they were quoting the Koran or Confucius.

Although Kountze is characterized as a "small town," and it is in fact "rural" as that term is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, it is part of the Beaumont Metropolitan Area.  Especially interesting in light of this current controversy is that, according to Wikipedia, the city elected the nation's first Muslim mayor, in 1991.

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