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Posts Tagged ‘Church-State Relations

God and cheerleader at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High

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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.”

3921854829_4e2645cf92How 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.

Written by rkcookjr

October 12, 2009 at 12:14 am

Parent ticked that high school football coach gave players a holy water break

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David Jason Stinson is facing criminal charges in part because it’s suspected his denying water caused a player to die. Now another Kentucky football coach, a little bit south of Stinson’s Louisville, has put himself at legal risk for giving his players too much water in an attempt to give them eternal life.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal, which by now must have a full-time high school coach legal writer:

The head football coach at Breckinridge County High School took about 20 players on a school bus late last month to his church, where nearly half of them were baptized, school officials say.

The mother of one player said her 16-year-old son was baptized without her knowledge and consent, and she is upset that a public school bus was used to take players to a church service — and that the school district’s superintendent was there and did not object.

“Nobody should push their faith on anybody else,” said Michelle Ammons, whose son, Robert Coffey, said Coach Scott Mooney told him and other players that the Aug. 26 outing would include only a motivational speaker and a free steak dinner.

Two other parents, however, said in interviews that their sons told them that Mooney had said the voluntary outing to Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Hardin County would include a revival.

Mooney, contacted by phone, said school district officials instructed him not to comment.

But Superintendent Janet Meeks, who is a member of the church and witnessed the baptisms, said she thinks the trip was proper because attendance was not required, and another coach paid for the gas.

Meeks said parents weren’t given permission slips to sign but knew the event would include a church service, if not specifically a baptism. She said eight or nine players came forward and were baptized.

“None of the players were rewarded for going and none were punished for not going,” Meeks said.

David Friedman, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said in an interview that the trip would appear to violate Supreme Court edicts on the separation of church and state — even if it was voluntary and the school district didn’t pay for the fuel.

“If players want to attend the coach’s church and get baptized, that’s great,” Friedman said. But a coach cannot solicit player attendance at school, he said, noting, “Coaches have great power and persuasion by virtue of their position, and they have to stay neutral.”

[youtubevid id=”1JBs9dJrjoM#movie_player”]

A little football-style baptism.

Neither the ACLU nor the Liberty Counsel, a self-described religious rights group quoted as saying the coach did nothing wrong, are involved in the dispute — but you know that’s going to change soon enough.

As the article notes, in March the U.S. Supreme Court — not the one with Sonia Sotomayor on it — “rejected an appeal from a high school football coach in New Jersey who wanted to bow his head and kneel during prayers led by his players, despite a school district policy prohibiting it.”

The fight in the Kentucky case is going to be over whether any school employee can invite a student or player to a church without parental permission without violating church-state separation, or whether they can even do so at all, given the possible coercive nature of the invitation (for example, what if a football coach demoted a player who didn’t go?).

Perhaps Hardin County Schools needed a mandate from the state superintendent to have kids opt out of the church service, like the first-in-the-nation order he barked to local districts to give parents the option of not allowing their children to allow today’s Barack Obama speech to schools on the importance of furthering the People’s Godless Socialist Revolution of 2008.

You know, if Michelle Ammons did want to bring in the ACLU to sue the school, she might have a case. The story, intentionally or not, paints a picture of a coach, superintendent and church willing to — what’s the popular term these days? — indoctrinate children behind their parents’ backs.

[Superintendent] Meeks said she would have sought the consent of parents for the baptism of students if they had been “7 or 8 or 9” years old. But she didn’t think it was necessary for the players who are “16 or 17.”

She said that if Robert’s parents didn’t know that the outing was going to include a revival service it was because “he apparently was not forthcoming with his parents.”

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Ron Davis, said that he requires minors to obtain their parents’ consent to be baptized, but he added: “Sometimes 16 year olds look like 18 years. We did the best we could.”

He said the event on Aug. 26 “was a great service” and that attendance by the players was strictly voluntary.

“I trust the coach 100 percent,” he said of Mooney. “He is a fine young man and he is sure not going to manipulate anyone.” …

[Ammons] said she was prepared to drop the matter until she found out that Meeks attended the service. She said she consulted a lawyer in Elizabethtown but hasn’t decided what action she will take.

Certainly for many evangelicals, converting souls is an important part of their religion. That is not always a bad thing. But trying to convert children as you squeeze out their parents is treading on dangerous ground. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone involved in the case of Muslim-turned-Christian-runaway Rifqa Bary.