On the southern fringes of Texas' vast Piney Woods, a battle is brewing.
It's a battle between Southern small-town cheerleaders and out-of-state liberals. From Wisconsin. If you know anything about Texas, you know that can't be a good thing.
A couple thousand people live in Kountze, a hardscrabble town with more churches than fast-food joints, miles from any Interstate, about an hour and a half away from the outskirts of Houston. Over 70% of the population is white, 22% is black, and 5% is Hispanic. Voters in Kountze are overwhelmingly Republican, and only 12% of the townsfolk identify their religion as something other than Christian.
In other words, it's the kind of town where, if the cheerleading squad at its only high school wants to create banners with Bible references on them, nobody's going to make much of a fuss. Even if they wanted to.
So imagine the surprise in Kountze when an anti-religion organization out of Madison, Wisconsin began protesting over those banners emblazoned with Christian theology. Either somebody living in Kountze, or somebody who had heard about its local high school's practice, had notified the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which then sent a letter of complaint to the school's principal, who this past Tuesday, was compelled to ban the banners.
So supporters of the school's cheerleading squad contacted the Texas-based Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm that advocates in religious liberty cases. The Liberty Institute managed to swiftly win a court injunction against the complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, meaning that at least for now, the cheerleaders can continue making and displaying their Christian-themed banners at football games.
Football, after all, is practically a religion in Texas anyway.
A hearing is set for October for both sides to decide how this case is going to progress. Or digress, or regress, or whatever.
It seems that just about everybody in town supports their cheerleaders, and even the high school principal claims he's "between a rock and a hard place," since before the complaint, he'd obviously been the one who allowed the banners, despite knowing he didn't have solid legal footing in this matter.
The Liberty Institute insists the principal and his cheerleaders indeed have solid First Amendment legal footing in this matter, despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2000 interpreted by the Wisconsin group as forbidding such expressions of religion on school grounds. Both sides, with their nationally-sponsored advocacy teams, have their knickers in a twist over this, and neither appears likely to stand down.
Hearing the townspeople of Kountze tell it, they're the ones having their opinions suppressed by the Wisconsin group's complaint, saying that liberal intolerance is working against them. Sounds like a lot of them listen to right-wing radio, where the "tolerance" catch-phrase is a popular zinger in an attempt to twist what liberals insist Christians don't practice into some rallying cry for Christian normalcy.
But once again, it's actually some basic ignorance on the part of some religious conservatives that's at fault.
In a republic, the majority needs to protect the minority, to ensure fairness for all. Considering the fact that genuine, orthodox, evangelical Christians represent a minority of United States citizens, this should be something that we want to work in our favor. But protecting the rights of genuine, orthodox, evangelical Christians means that we also need to protect the rights of adherents to other religions.
Think about it: if some Muslim group wanted to hold up 20-foot banners with quotes from the Koran on them for football players to run through, how many of these folks in Kountze would be similarly protecting the Muslims' supposed First Amendment rights to do so?
Why should believers in Christ be destroying pieces of paper decorated with Bible verses anyway? That's what football players do when they run through these banners on their way onto the football field before a game. Shouldn't somebody be complaining that this isn't an appropriate use of scripture?
I don't support the denial of Christ's Gospel being perpetrated by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I pray for the salvation of their souls through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. But I also think they have a point, even if this small, apparently provincial, and relatively homogeneous southern town can't see it.
Thankfully, we Americans have many ways to display our faith and encourage each other with God's Word. And even if Kountze's population had every Constitutional right to do what they want to do with these banners, I don't think they should. Letting cheerleaders - who are really only teenaged girls being exploited for their looks - hold up banners with holy texts on them so a bunch of teenaged boys can charge through them in some wacky display of adolescent warfare doesn't strike me as particularly reverential.
And if winning the right to do such a thing with Christian verses means Koranic or Mormon verses can also be used, who wins then? Because that's basically what the Liberty Institute is arguing.
These cheerleaders and their naive supporters need to tread very carefully on this case. Otherwise, the intolerance they claim is hurting Christians may truly come back to harm us.