Cheerleaders fight for “right” to display religious slogans at games

October 6, 2012 • 12:42 am

For the next week, or even ten days, substantive posts—or any posts—from me will be thin on the ground. (I hope Greg and Matthew will step up!)

This afternoon I’m lecturing to the public in Porto to launch the Portuguese edition of my book, and then heading up the Douro Valley for two days of relaxation (and observation of the harvest) at a port-grape vineyard. After that, my travels are unpredictable until I arrive in Vienna on the eleventh. I’ll be back in the U.S. October 16, but sporadic peregrinations will follow until late November.


In the annals of secularism, the following story is just a blip, but it’s worth noting because it shows Americans’ insistence on dragging religion into every conceivable forum—even where it’s illegal.

In a new article, “Texas fight over cheerleader banners reaches biblical proportions,” The Los Angeles Times recounts a Biblical battle brewing over religious slogans at high-school football games.

Texas is football country, and in the small town of Kountze, about 85 miles north of Houston, many of the roughly 2,000 residents gather at the public high school on Friday nights to watch the show — the players, the coaches and, of course, the cheerleaders in their red-and-white uniforms, toting homemade biblical banners.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31.”

“But thanks be to God which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:57.”

The Lions cheerleaders are not competitive — they don’t have a coach or captain or permanent leader — and they make decisions by consensus, including what to write on their banners.

“We just wanted to encourage the boys and the fans in a way that gave honor to God. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal,” said cheerleader Rebekah Richardson, 17.

Well, in the U.S. it is a big deal, because religious displays at public-school events, including commencements and sporting events, violates the First Amendment of our Constitution.  Here’s another cheerleader-inspired religious display, this one legal but still bizarre:

Brook Coates paints Scripture on a car in Kountze, Texas. The community is rallying behind high school cheerleaders who are challenging a ban on biblical banners at public high school football games. (Dave Ryan, Beaumont Enterprise / October 5, 2012)

As expected, the school and cheerleaders landed in court, brought there by the awesome Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The banners were initially banned by the school when the lawsuit was announced, but then, in a decision contrary to all legal precedent, a judge ruled Thursday that the banners could continue to be displayed until a final ruling was issued October 18.

This is a clear-cut case: the banners are illegal because they constitute a form of religious endorsement by a public school—formally an arm of the U.S. government.

That, of course, didn’t stop the religious folk of Kountze from kvetching that their rights were really being abrogated instead of protected:

On Thursday, a crowd of about 80 — cheerleaders, parents and supporters — descended on the courthouse. Many were wearing red Kountze Lions T-shirts with a passage from Proverbs: “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”

“They’re learning you have to stand up for your constitutional rights,” said Coti Matthews, 31, Macy’s mother and a former Kountze cheerleader.

Ms. Matthews clearly doesn’t understand her own Constitution.

Matthews and cheerleader Kieara Moffett, both Baptists, testified that they — not their adult advisors – came up with the idea in July during summer cheer camp. They were stunned when the district banned them.

“It felt like my religion wasn’t really accepted,” said Moffett, a junior, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

Moffett has it exactly backwards. Her actions are making all those of other religions, as well as nonbelievers, feel as if they are not accepted.

Someone has fallen down in instructing these students about civics. It’s time for the Kountzee school government teachers to give a class on the First Amendment.

What makes this embarrassing is that I can’t imagine any other Western country, say, France, having a fracas about displaying religious banners at school soccer games. It just wouldn’t happen.

h/t: Tom

54 thoughts on “Cheerleaders fight for “right” to display religious slogans at games

  1. “They’re learning you have to stand up for your constitutional rights,” said Coti Matthews, 31, Macy’s mother and a former Kountze cheerleader.

    Oh, you’ve got to love the irony.

    1. Doing a little math, if Macy is anything like her mother, Coti could be a grandmother soon.

      Any guesses if getting married happened before or after making whoopee and getting pregnant.

  2. Seems like they’re afraid to go for five seconds without plastering Jesus all over everything. Possibly their faith is so weak it needs bolstering 24/7?

    And why is it not acceptable to them to let the crowd bring all the Jesus-bolstering paraphernalia if they need it so badly? No one would interfere with that. It would be annoying, obviously, but not illegal.

    1. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend who likes to sunbathe at the local nude beach. He ranted about “christian” nudists who spew 5¢ biblical references to justify their practice. Totally unnecessary and irrelevant, of course, because a taste for nude sunbathing is on a par with a taste for peppermint stick ice cream instead of pistachio. This segued into a general lament about the way xters insert the bibble into everything.

      I opined that they do so because their “faith” is weak and they don’t really have much confidence in it. Precisely the same thing here, methinks.

      1. It’s not that their faith is weak…

        They just can’t remember it if they’re unable to see it plastered all over the countryside at all times. Being unable to see it causes them to forget that they had it until they can see it again, which causes intense personal anxiety as they desperately try to remember the thing that they knew was just so important to them that they couldn’t live without it but can no longer figure out what it was.

  3. What brings you to Vienna, Jerry? As a longtime lurker who also happens to live in Vienna, I’m intrigued!

    (By the way, I hope you mean Vienna, Austria, and not Vienna, Alabama. Those two are never easy to tell apart.)

    1. The Institute Colloquium is the principal research seminar at IST Austria. Scientists from around the world and from across all disciplines of the natural sciences are invited to present their latest findings. The Institute Colloquium has an interdisciplinary flavor and is meant to be of general interest to the research community of IST Austria as well as that of Vienna and surroundings

      Next Institute Colloquium:

      Jerry Coyne
      The University of Chicago
      Two flies on an island: Speciation in African Drosophila

      When: Monday, October 15 at 4:30 pm
      Where: Raiffeisen Lecture Hall in Central Building

  4. In addition to a low I.Q., is the inability to spell simple words like “believe” a job requirement for cheerleaders in Texas?

  5. I can’t imagine any other Western country, say, France, having a fracas about displaying religious banners at school soccer games

    Quoi ? Wat Iz Zis “Sokeur” you are toking about, s’il vous plait ?

  6. There IS a religious freedom issue, but not what you might think.

    When I was an orthodox Jew, back in the 1950s, I would have regarded the Jesus banners as idolatrous, rather than merely misguided and objectionable, and this would have seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy, or even take part in, the school activity.

    As so often in the US, “religious freedom” means Christian exceptionalism, its very opposite.

      1. Good find coels – but the question that immediately comes to mind is “Are you a regualr reader of the WND?” 🙂 I am guessing that perhaps you have a Retard-o-tron similar to the one owned by the Sensuous Curmudgeon – it goes off regularly when the WND speaks of evolution.

      2. The article is good, but notice that the author had to actually experience what is like to have someone else’s religion crammed down his throat before he understood that it’s wrong. It’s much like Dick Cheney’s conveniently liberal attitude towards gays – I’m glad the experience of having a lesbian daughter opened his eyes to the shittines of his fellow conservatives regarding homosexuals, but he’s still an asshole in so many other ways. I guess the son of a bitch needs a couple of good waterboardings.

  7. “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ…”

    Who said you were? However I expect your god–if it existed–would be ashamed of you. Why are you always expecting favours from it?

    Their pushiness and lack of restraint is obnoxious. In France, hardly anybody talks about faith or lack of it; it would be considered rude. Such topics are largely private matters.

  8. What court precedent? I’m trained as a lawyer (not practicing law currently), and if there is some court precedent that says that the practices mentioned in this post violate the United States Constitution, there ought to be a citation for the case. (And of course, describing a public school district as “formally an arm of the U.S. government” is just plain WRONG.) There is a test announced in precedents on the issue of the Establishment Clause referring to “endorsement” of religion by state actors, but there is also an individual liberty right of free exercise of religion protected by the same first amendment of the United States Constitution. Where is the link to the court documents from the case discussed in this post? Those court documents, from the parties and from the judge, should cite the applicable precedents, and argue back and forth about which precedents are more applicable to the facts at hand.

    (I’m 100 percent with the main author of this website on the truth of the science of biological evolution, and on a general attitude of skeptical rationalism. I have been on both sides of the aisle in terms of religious practice, currently being an atheist, so I’m well aware of the legal arguments on BOTH sides of this issue, both of which are written directly into the text of the Constitution. I studied law before my “conversion” to atheism.)

    1. “…if there is some court precedent that says that the practices mentioned in this post violate the United States Constitution, there ought to be a citation for the case.”

      If you read the post again, you will see that the claim of ‘no precedent’ refers to the decision to let the contested behavior stand while awaiting decision, and not to the anticipated decision itself. Your points still stand, of course, and it can’t be wrong to ask for documentary evidence to back up all claims… however I, for one, am content to read “in a decision contrary to all legal precedent” as a bit of rhetorical hyperbole that adequately expresses surprise, shock and dismay at the court’s ruling though I’m sure yo u are right that it is technically not so. Precedents can be found for just about anything, including many wrong and bad decisions.

    2. The centrality of the “separation” concept to the Religion Clauses of the Constitution was made explicit in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), a case dealing with a New Jersey law that allowed government funds to pay for transportation of students to both public and Catholic schools. This was the first case in which the court applied the Establishment Clause to the laws of a state, having interpreted the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applying the Bill of Rights to the states as well as the federal legislature.

      Public schools are funded and controlled by the state government. Therefore, public schools are subject to the Establishment Clause.

      Cheerleaders are school representatives, and therefore, government representatives:

      Upholding a federal judge’s dismissal of the suit, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared Sept. 16 that a cheerleader serves as a “mouthpiece” for the school. The Silsbee district “had no duty to promote H.S.’ message,” the three-judge panel said, and her silence “constituted substantial interference with the work of the school.”

      Read more:

  9. I agree with Karl. As I understand the ruling, the cheerleaders are not employees of the school, and unless the school is requiring them to use the banners, they have a right to express their opinions.

    1. tfkreference, you obviously don’t understand the rulings. Repeating for you:

      The school district’s “simple enactment of this policy, with the purpose and perception of school endorsement of student prayer, was a constitutional violation.” Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 316 (2000).

      The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that a cheerleader serves as a “mouthpiece” for the school. From where did you pull out a reference to being a school employee?

  10. Court precedent? How about this>

    In New Mexico, a public school district established a policy of permitting (but not requiring) an “invocation” or prayer initiated and led by a student at high school football games. The school district’s “simple enactment of this policy, with the purpose and perception of school endorsement of student prayer, was a constitutional violation.” Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 316 (2000). “[T]he delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship.” 530 U.S. at 312. The Supreme Court also observed, “Government efforts to endorse religion cannot evade constitutional reproach based solely on the remote possibility that those attempts may fail.” 530 U.S. at 317.

    In Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 587 (1992), the Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause was violated by a practice of including nonsectarian public prayers by clerics at public school graduation ceremonies. The Court did not find it necessary to apply the three-prong Lemon test or the Lynch “endorsement” test. Instead, the Court relied on the following principle:

    [A]t a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise to act in a way which establishes a state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.

    505 U.S. at 587. A government action or statute can violate the Establishment Clause even when coercion is not present.

    I am not only “trained as a lawyer” but am a practicing lawyer (33 years). I don’t see any important difference between a pre-game prayer approved by the school and the school’s approval of prayer-slogans on paper barriers through which the football players and cheerleaders “burst.”

    Of course, the Texas school district here is not an “arm of the U.S. [federal] government. But it is an arm of the state government for Establishment Clause purposes, and that is sufficient for a finding of “state action,” when the First Amendment is applied to the states and other political subdivisions via the 14th Amendment.

    1. Exactly.

      Matthews and cheerleader Kieara Moffett, both Baptists, testified that they — not their adult advisors – came up with the idea in July during summer cheer camp.

      It matters not whose idea it is, nor who carries it out. What matters is that these are people acting on behalf of the State.

      If you want to sell your Jesus, swap your uniform for some civvies and do it from the bleachers. If you want to be part of the officially-sponsored state-run organization, don’t sell your Jesus while on the State’s clock.

      As the joke goes, as long as there’re tests, there’ll be prayer in schools. And that’s a good thing. If you’re a student and you think you can compel Jesus to telepathetically give you the answers, great! Pray away — but silently (as Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount) and non-disruptively. You don’t get to give a prayer over the intercom on SAT day.

      It’s a simple deal, and it’s in your best interest.

      Don’t like that deal? Fine. If you can use the State to sell your Jesus, then the State can use your church to tell you exactly which Jesus to sell. Better hope that the state decides to sell your Jesus as opposed to the evil Jesus your neighbors are selling!

      If you still think that state-sponsored Christianity is a good thing, then you need to re-read your American history. Specifically, read about the Christian Puritans who fled persecution from Christian Anglicans who controlled the Christian government in England.



      1. These girls should be given failing grades in their civics course for failure to understand what “separation of church and state” means.

        1. They probably have never had a civics class, and if they had it approaches certainty that they were never taught an accurate understanding of “separation of church and state.” Replace the teachers and the people who devised the curriculum instead.

        2. Do you guys seriously think that they’d teach separation of church and state in a public school civics class in Kountze, Texas? Come on, seriously? Eighty five miles north of Houston, southeast Texas, where the Dark Ages are still in full force?

    1. It would be pretty funny if their team lost badly by another school with a lion mascot, come to think of it.

  11. I propose a little test from 1 Kings. They can build an alter; sacrifice a cow; place it on a woodpile; then pray for God to light the fire. If they are as confident as Elijah, they should soak the wood with water first.

    Let them make all the banners they want. Let them do it at halftime. I can hear the cheerleaders now, “Go! Go! Go, God, Go!”

    Just monitor them closely so nobody can help God with a match of any sort.

    1. There’s an even better test.

      We want to know whether or not they actually believe in Jesus, right?

      Well, as it just so happens, we have no lesser an authority than the author of the Gospel According to Saint Mark telling us, in red-letter text in the King James Bible, exactly how Jesus says believers are supposed to demonstrate their belief to those who don’t believe — and that they should perform this demonstration in order to convince the non-believers to believe.

      Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

      15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

      16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

      17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

      18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

      19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

      20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

      As if it weren’t emphatic enough, you’ll note that, according to Mark, that was Jesus’s final message to his creation.

      So, if these cheerleaders truly believe, they’ll chug some ammonia, follow it with a bleach chaser, and then proceed to empty the hospital by curing everybody with an illness.

      Somehow, I rather doubt that this sort of demonstration is forthcoming….



      1. The only (slight) problem with citing this passage from Mark’s gospel is that the best / earliest / most complete manuscripts end with 16:8 (the women fleeing from the empty tomb and saying nothing to anyone, “for they were afraid.”). Mark’s 16:9 through 16:20 were added in later manuscripts, perhaps to compete with similar material in Matthew 28:18-20. They are shown in a footnote in my Oxford Annotated Bible, a 1962 edition based on the RSV.

        But the pseudo-reductio ad absurdum instructional value of this Marcan text for the cheerleaders is still good, as a test of their faith.

        1. Oh, but that’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

          “What? Jesus din’t actually say that? But it’s right here in the King James Bible! It’s not in your Bible? Well, how do you know that your Bible is right and that the King James Bible is lying? What sorts of lies do you think might be lurking in your Bible? What sort of faith do you have in the men who wrote your translation, and in the Dark Ages monks who penned the ‘best manuscripts’ your translations are made from?”

          …and so on.



          1. I’ve been thinking about the difficulties in making translations.

            God sure did a great job after that unfortunate Tower of Babble incident. He scrambled the languages so well that we can never 100% accurately translate His Perfect Word and let the common folk understand it.

            Or maybe he never saw that coming 😉

            1. Besides which, if Jesus wanted the world to have a definitive account of his teachings, wouldn’t he have dome something like…oh…I don’t know…carve them in stone?

              Or, even better: he could have engraved them in gold plates and then set them in orbit, just like we did with the Voyager probes. I mean, we did it; why couldn’t all-powerful Jesus have done it?

              Instead, he left it to a few generations of oral tradition before it got set down in the form of a campfire story.

              Luke 1:1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

              2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

              3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

              4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

              It’s like, of all the possible forms of ensuring the story be told, Jesus intentionally went with the one best guaranteed to be unbelievable.



      2. That might make a good litmus test to see which ones go, “yeah it’s in the Bible, God will protect us.” But stop them before they harm themselves. That level of delusion might justify segregating them from their parents.

        I think a better outcome would be the kids asking, “Mom, Dad, why is there no fire under your calve?”

        1. Well, that’s why you start with the Ammonia Big Gulp. Yes, it’s quite toxic, but I very much doubt you’d find many people who could actually manage to bring themselves to drink enough to cause serious harm. Even if you don’t know that ammonia is harmful, the stuff is so noxious that your reflexes are going to protect you to a good extent. Hell, most people wouldn’t even be able to manage a second whiff of an open glass.

          If you should ever find somebody who’s stupid enough to seriously take you up on the challenge, insist that the test must be performed at the local emergency room. Not so the ER staff can pump the stomach, of course, but so that the Christer can follow up the poison-drinking with the requisite healing of the sick by laying on of hands.

          …and, of course, long before then, the Christer will have retreated under “though shalt not tempt God” or some other form of life-preserving bullshit.


          1. Or that reflexes are how God protects his followers from poisons. See how scientifically accurate the Bible is 😉

  12. Aside from my not sharing their convictions, I always find the mingling of religion with metaphors from either sports or the military always jarring and distasteful, but that’s my aesthetics being offended not my views on religion.

    This is actually relevant to !*this*! topic- I tracked down where PZ Myers called Ruse the nasty name and it’s in a very perceptive post on Ruse’s confusions about the first amendment- more subtle confusions than those discussed here, but confused nonetheless. Myers is spot-on.

    Well, at least this “Biblical battle” is not of Biblical proportions.

  13. ““It felt like my religion wasn’t really accepted,” said Moffett, a junior, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.”

    That is just disgustingly pathetic. We all have to accept this little girls religion so she won’t cry? This girls parents, teachers and community have done a grave disservice to her, and all the rest of us will be stuck with paying the consequences for it. If that isn’t abuse I don’t know what is.

  14. “What makes this embarrassing is that I can’t imagine any other Western country, say, France, having a fracas about displaying religious banners at school soccer games. It just wouldn’t happen.”

    Actually most western countries do not have church state separation and there are all kinds of religious displays in public buildings, including schools, clerics participating in public events, state officials sponsoring and participating in religious events, direct subsidies for religion, including salaries of priests, sunday school teachers and bishops payed for by the state, etc.

    France is mostly an exception, but even their laïcité doesn’t live up to the french republican self-image. The french state for example finances und maintains church and synagogue buildings and infrastructure for free.

    There is hardly any controversy about this in Europe and even Atheists and Secularists unfortunately don’t seem to care.

    For my taste american atheist groups are over the top with their litigious ways. But hey, it’s the US. Americans like to sue. 😉

    1. Well, since you don’t mind paying for it, I’m sure we can do a little math and let everyone who does mind opt out, then you can personally pick up the difference out of your own pocket.

    2. But hey, it’s the US. Americans like to sue.

      Americans have to be more vigilant because religion is far more threatening there; in Europe religion is far weaker, so secularists tolerate more mixing of state and church (whether they should is a different matter).

  15. Actually, this could be a good idea, if some other types would get involved. Here are some suggestions for bible verses to use:

    Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalm 137:90).

    So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall (1 Samuel 25.22).

    But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother (Genesis 38.9).

    Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves (Numbers 31.17-18).

    New Testament verses available on request!

    And, of course, since government establishment of religion is clearly prohibited, we could also get some muslims and hindus to carry banners with appropriate verses from the koran and vedas.

  16. Here’s a hypothetical: the cheerleaders take free personality tests and become Scientologists. The culturally diverse football team now runs through a banner at the beginning of the game exhorting the banishment of body thetans.

    Would that last more than one game?

  17. Aw, don’t y’all fret too much!

    Little Macy will be safely pregnant and living in a double-wide in a few years with Lance or Cody or whomever. Texas born and bred.

  18. The scary thing is (for me) is that 50 years ago, I would have been one of those banner-writin’ cheerleaders. Gotta stand up fer Jeezus, don’t ya know.

    I’m so glad I don’t live in Texas.

  19. kinds glad I attended, and sent my children to a private Catholic school (in Texas even.) We learned science in science class (not only evolution but even that lightening striking the primordial soup was a good guess about how life came to be on this planet. In theology class we studied comparative world religions, death and dying, (as in stages of grieving, planning and paying for funerals, etc) and ethics and moral responsibility. At our football games and other sponsored athletic competitions we used words I am not allowed to use anywhere else. There was some occasional grumbling in some of the public schools about praying and such, but we saved our prayers for exams.

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