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What unites Ted Cruz and cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas?

What unites Ted Cruz and cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas?

This tiny city of some 2,000 is overwhelmingly white and Christian, and home to a group of young women who sued their school district for the right to display banners bearing Bible quotes, while serving as cheerleaders for their high school team.

The case was brought in 2012, after the school district banned the banners, following letters threatening legal action from the Freedom From Religion group, based in Wisconsin. Passages were chosen to reference Lions, the team name, and provide more positive messages. They included “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and “A lion, which is strongest among beasts and turns not away from any.”

Only one of the plaintiffs is still in high school; the others have graduated since the suit, which they filed in 2012, but they haven’t abandoned the case. Many outsiders see it as another front in the quasi-political culture wars, which may explain why Ted Cruz and other Republican officials have entered the fray, but at least one of the women interviewed for a recent Atlantic article rejects that perspective.

From the article:

The girls I talked to in Kountze didn’t really see themselves as part of a culture war—“No, I don’t think Jesus is a Republican,” Richardson quipped. But a few of the moms saw things

The moms noted that this wasn’t an issue which they’d thought of before, but said they now see lots of areas in which Christians are asked to not talk about their faith, and expressed worries over what they see as a growing effort to silence people like themselves.

What do you think about this case? Do you think Ted Cruz is involved for personal convictions or political reasons? How do you think it will resolve, and what do you think it means for future cases? Do you think the racial dynamics–this case involves women and women of color–change this from the typical story about religious rights and freedoms?

Image from Atlantic story of Keke Moffett, a former cheerleader who was one of the plaintiffs.

 

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Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

I know I will be chastised by my progressive Episcopal friends for saying this, but when I was called to serve God many years ago, it was to serve God (Yahweh), revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of Whom is Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God.

America has a sickness, it is called crucify Jesus in the public square instead of lifting high the Cross of Christ. When we allow the Christian God to be removed from our schools and every other public venue, then we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for we are showing shame for the Gospel of God publicly.

When I served parishes years ago, I would deliver the invocation at all the sports events, bless fields at harvest, prayer at town meetings and the list goes on and on. I even taught Bible classes in the local high school. Now what?

This is why we have the problems we face in America, we have thrown God out of the public square. Sometimes I think we have thrown Him out of the Church as well.

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Marshall Scott

Brother William, I also gave invocations as sporting events in my time; and even then I was conscious that most who heard would not be moved. A few would be offended; and a few would note that they didn't agree, or that it wasn't their tradition, without offense; but most would accept it as a cultural norm with no real reflection on presence in the public square one way or another.

I still hear such invocations, if in very limited situations. However, I almost never hear them as official acts (whether actively claimed or simply culturally sanctioned) of any expression of government - and a public school is an expression of government. As individuals, there might have been opportunities for these young women to bring their faith into the public square, as their faith. Done in uniform, it is not distinguishable from other acts of the school, and so of government - or, at least, not distinguishable enough.

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Anand Gnanadesikan

While I agree with Gregory Orloff above that this is an ineffective form of evangelism, I also think there are some free speech issues here.

If this were a Muslim group that wanted to demonstrate its support- or an LGBT group that wanted to march in a school parade... would we have the same reaction?

Free speech and freedom of religion doesn't exist to make liberals comfortable. It is, ultimately a practical demonstration of liberal values to allow those with whom we disagree maximal freedom to express themselves. I would argue that *student-led* religious expression falls under that principle.

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Marshall Scott

Anand, there are certainly free speech issues, but perhaps not as discrete in this case. There have been quite a number of significant court cases noting that the free speech rights of students in public schools. when participating in school activities , are not absolute. Most of these cases have involved students writing for school publications (newspapers, poetry journals, etc); but the principles still apply. If these students were in the stands, just showing up with the banners, it would be different; but they are in uniform. Perhaps if they had written the "encouraging quotes" without citation (and, admittedly, that might raise different academic issues), it might be different. But they didn't distinguish a "school purpose" (encouraging school athletes) from a "religious purpose" (evangelism).

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Gregory Orloff

Want to show the world you're a Christian? Don't do it with a banner or by cheerleading. Do it by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick and visiting the jailed. Do it by loving neighbor, loving enemy and treating others the same way you want to be treated. Do it by praying for those who mistreat you and blessing those who curse you. Then, maybe, people will find Christianity compelling in a way that they don't when it's reduced to rah-rah sloganeering.

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Anand Gnanadesikan

Agreed. Although there is a subsidiary issue here.

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Jos. S. Laughon

A few young women make a banner in public that reflects the tone and make up of their community and our chattering classes get riled up. Very Serious People rule this sort of thing must be ended. More at 11.

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David Allen

Yes, because it's a slippery slope that needs to be eliminated before precedents are set, especially in Texas where they constantly pretend they may withdraw from the US every other day.

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Jos. S. Laughon

A slippery slope to what? Christianity in the public square?

Getting riled up about what some young Christian women do in Texas as if it threatens anyone's lifestyle or conscience is simply a form of bizarre virtue signalling.

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Thom Forde

Amen

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Robert E. Lewis

A public school banner proclaiming "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"?? A PUBLIC high school??

Bravo for the Freedom From Religion folks. It is precisely that kind of "religion" everyone need protection from.

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David Allen

AFAIK, most cheer squads are a school sponsored activity with a paid advisor and other expenses, such as the practice facility, paid for by the school. So it wouldn't just be a handful of the football teams female classmates creating this banner, it's a school sponsored pep squad, like sports teams, marching bands, choirs, etc. That's government money from likely local, state and federal levels used to promote/sponsor Christianity over all other religions. That's anathema per the US Constitution.

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Helen Kromm

When I do a Facebook search using "Kountz Texas" as the search criteria, the first post that appears is from Episcopal Cafe, which was created seven hours ago. Directly beneath it is a Ted Cruz post dated January 29th. The Cruz post is titled "A victory for religious liberty!"

Looking closer, I noticed that the Cruz post has 666 comments. The last one on 2/17 of this year. It has been frozen at "666" since February.

A sign perhaps???

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Helen Kromm

The fact that the cheerleaders made the banners themselves is irrelevant. The banners would be displayed at a public high school venue, as part of a publicly funded event, in a publicly funded facility.

"Should it matter that the challenge is issued from a remote group that hasn’t argued that the issue affects them personally?"

This too is irrelevant. For any number of reasons, the primary one being is that you have no way of knowing who is affected. In small, close kit communities like these, those affected are probably reticent to express their disagreement with this. Going against the group think in small communities like these can have real world consequences. And most of those consequences are not good.

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