Published October 29. 2012 4:00AM
The following editorial appeared recently in The Washington Post.
Imagine you are in the stands at a high school football game, and the cheerleaders hoist a paper banner painted with the Bible verse "I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me." The football team then runs through the sign to start play. With whom would you think that religious message was associated? The school-sponsored cheerleading squad holding the sign and lined up around it, obviously. The school-sponsored football team, probably. The school administrators who allow the banner prime space in a pregame ritual, maybe. Surely not just the individual cheerleaders who painted the sign.
Yet that is what the parents of 15 Kountze High School cheerleaders in Texas claim you should think. They argue that their daughters are simply expressing their private views on the football field when the school's cheerleading squad raises its run-through banners, others of which read, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" or "But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
After school-district administrators banned the religiously themed banners, the cheerleaders' parents sued in state court, and a judge granted an injunction last week that allows the girls to continue displaying the signs.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry weighed in. "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."
And if a student in the stands doesn't believe that? Or an aspiring cheerleader happens to be a Hindu? Since the squad and the team carry the school's imprint, students should not have to choose between tacitly endorsing a sectarian message and participating in a cheerleading routine or taking the field with their teammates. Likewise, spectators shouldn't have to choose between cheering on their team and avoiding the cheerleaders' proselytizing.
The case is headed to trial in a Texas court, with the possibility of a federal case later. But it would be better for the cheerleading squad, the football team and the community they represent if the cheerleaders would drop their suit, stick to messages that are more inclusive and practice and preach their religion in a more appropriate setting.