God and cheerleader at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High
If you attend one school board meeting this year, it looks like the one to attend will be Tues., Oct. 13’s regularly scheduled session of the Catoosa County School Board in Ringgold, Ga. That’s because the meeting will feature a large crowd of people always known to liven up an otherwise staid board or town hall meeting — religious fundamentalists.
They’re descending on Ringgold because over the last few weeks, a story has developed over Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High’s varsity football cheerleaders writing Bible verses on the huge tissue-paper poster the players run through for their spirited pregame entry, instead of their writing something less controversial like “Go Warriors,” “We’re 14th in the State in SAT Scores,” or “Meet Me After the Game for a Hand Job.”
How to strip a Bible verse of its context. The 10th chapter of Ezra starts like this: While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath.
This case of religion in public school sports is a bit of an oddball because the local resident who pointed out the possible illegality of the sign was not a hard-core atheist or someone else with a religious bone to pick. It was a parent who had taken a law class at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, and who had picked up the lesson through that religiously sympathetic institution that the cheerleaders’ signs could violate separation-of-church-and-state laws and be potentially divisive in the community.
Also a bit of an oddball, the superintendent, instead of sending the Holy Wrath of the Lord on all who would desecrate the cheerleaders’ sign, ordered no more Bible verses on the field. Denia Reese’s statement is a testament, no pun intended, to how a school official can grudgingly balance her personal beliefs and the rights of others:
“I regret that we had to ask the LFO cheerleaders to change the signs used in the stadium prior to football games. Personally, I appreciate this expression of their Christian values; however, as Superintendent I have the responsibility of protecting the school district from legal action by groups who do not support their beliefs.”
On the surface, the upcoming school board meeting appears to be a tribute to Christian passive-aggressiveness. From the Facebook page of those organizing a rally at the meeting:
This is not a political rally! This is simply a call to Christians to come out and pray for our school system and leaders who are making decisions. Also, to show our support for the sign.
We are going to continue to pray that some how the cheerleaders will get their signs back!
Several members of the community will be speaking to the board at 6 PM during public participation. We will gather for prayer outside of the board room at 7 PM.
Still, the way any public meeting goes, whether it’s about religion or not, there should be some fire and brimstone brought to the microphone stand. Hopefully, the school board stands firm. Like the superintendent, it can be as personally sympathetic as it wants. It can talk about what a good Christian community the school represents. It can talk about how the hand of Satan is behind the sign being taken away. But what the school board can’t do is give its blessing, no pun intended, that the sign return.
The superintendent set up a compromise where a big ol’ Bible verse sign can be put up before any steps onto school grounds to see a game. Hey, that’s great. But she and the board knows that if that sign goes back up on the field, a lawsuit is sure to follow, especially now that this case has gotten nationwide attention. It’s the same old story — nobody is stopping you from praying privately and on your own time that Jesus helps you smite the opposition. Just don’t make everyone pray with you.