Of Rainbow's, Tuxedo's and Gays

Saturday, October 31, 2009
American Civil Liberties UnionImage via Wikipedia
The ACLU has been tracking stories of discrimination of gay public school students. It bothers me to no end that stories like this are all to frequent. But, it does not surprise me that both of these stories take place in the south - no offense to my southern atheist friends. Will these people ever learn!

What Were They Thinking?!?
Banning Tuxedos and Rainbows

Earlier this month, the ACLU heard of a story about a young woman—a straight A student, goalie on the soccer team and a trumpet player—who was denied a photo in her school yearbook because she was wearing a tuxedo.
School officials told Ceara Sturgis, an openly gay senior at Wesson Attendance Center in Wesson, MS, that her photo would not appear in the yearbook because in it she is wearing a tuxedo, not the traditional drape worn by other female students. Assistant Superintendent Robert Holloway informed Ceara's mother that there was no policy in the student handbook requiring females to wear drapes.
more about the case in Mississippi.

This reminds us of another ridiculous case in Florida where school officials tried to limit the self expression of students by banning rainbows—any kind of rainbow—including Reading Rainbow, the Apple logo and Pink Floyd t-shirts.

Thankfully, the case in Florida ended in a victory for First Amendment rights.

Check out the video to see the school board fight the insidious “Reading Rainbow” logo.

The ACLU is fighting for the First Amendment rights of students throughout the country. Trying to remove photos of women in tuxedos and rainbows at schools makes us really wonder: What were they thinking?!?
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Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Thursday, October 22, 2009
School bus
It is good that school officials in a predominately Mormon area can still keep things secular.
Bus driver disciplined for asking kids to sing
by Jeremy Foster/KTAR (October 21st, 2009 @ 3:27pm)

MESA, Ariz. - A school bus driver in the East Valley is in trouble after asking LDS students on the bus to sing religious songs on the way to school.

Kathy Bareiss, with Mesa Public Schools, says while most of the students on board were Mormon, not all of them were.

"It's not appropriate to ask children what their religion is," Bareiss told KTAR. "The bus driver has been disciplined and we are sending him for some training."

She says some students weren't happy with the bus driver for asking them about their religion.

"Unfortunately there were some students who were not LDS and they were uncomfortable in the situation," said Bareiss.

The children on the bus attend Hermosa Vista Elementary School in Mesa.

Kansan's with Less Education Want Creationism Taught in Schools

Sunday, October 18, 2009
A recently published survey conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas shows that the lower the education achieved the more likely a Kansan is to support the teaching of creationism in Kansas' public schools. The following is excerpted from pages 43-45 of the Kansas Speaks 2009 report:

Some interesting variations were found in opinions of teaching evolution and creationism in public schools between respondents with varying levels of education. Respondents with no college education tended to prefer that either creationism or neither perspectives be taught. Very few of these respondents wanted evolution taught. Respondents with some college, but less than a bachelors degree, were most likely to prefer that both perspectives be taught and were more evenly divided among those preferring that only one of the two perspectives be taught.

Male and upper income respondents tended to prefer that either evolution or both perspectives be taught in public schools, while females and lower income respondents tended to prefer that creationism or neither perspective be taught.
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Update - Special Area Provided for Religious Signs at Football Games

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the Special Area Provided for Religious Signs at Football Games. Apparently, the debate is still going on although no one has yet sued they are certainly playing the First Amendment card on both sides.

John Pless of WTVC-TV NewsChannel 9 posted the following article on the continuing saga in Catoosa County.
Who Is Right About The Law, Cheerleaders, The Bible?

The debate over Bible verses posted at one high school's football games rages on with both sides making passionate arguments while petitions are being tossed around. But lost in all the emotion is the law and what the courts say the First Amendment means.
So who is right, and will anyone spend the huge amount of money and time to challenge the court's interpretation of the law? So far no one has sued.
Ringgold Attorney Matthew Bryan, who has recently spoken on behalf of the cheerleaders actions, said Wednesday "let me clarify that I am not ready to pursue this in the courts and I don't know whether a group of people is or not."
But Bryan does want to clarify his interpretation of the law -- the First Amendment to the Constitution -- that so many people at Tuesday night's Catoosa County School Board meeting shared. They don't like the School District putting an end to a practice on the Lakeview Forth Oglethorpe High School football field.
Before home games players would run through a banner peppered with verses from the Bible and erupt on the field in a show of "Warrior" team spirit. But the School District says it gives the appearance of the public school promoting a religion.
"The issue is going to be, are the signs private student speech or are they state sponsored speech," Bryan said.
Byan said the banners are an expression of private student speech. He said similar legal battles over religion vs. public schools have resulted in the courts favoring expression of religion in some cases. In other cases, Bryan said the courts sided with public schools.
Each case that has been tried and adjudicated revolves around very particular, unique issues and circumstances that are very different from each other -- whether it's an issue of what a student wears, says or expresses and how those thoughts and opinions are expressed.
Here's how the attorney for the Catoosa County School District sees this particular issue with the cheerleaders.
"The engaging of pre-game activities at a football game, that the school is sponsoring the religious activity, that's the heart of the matter," Rezno Higgins said.
Of course lawyers and the courts have different interpretations of what the First Amendment to the Constitution means. While there have been plenty of cases decided that involve religious issues and public schools there has never been a case involving cheerleaders or banners with Biblical verses on the playing field.
What has been so puzzling to parents and students is the School District will allow religious expresion in the stands, outside the stadium and on t-shirts -- all in plain view of anyone attending the game -- but not on the playing field which is also in plain view.
"The activity in the stands, the activity right outside the stadium, the activity off the field and off the sidelines does not give the impression to a casual observer that the school is sponsoring the religious activity," Wiggins explained.
But Bryan said cheerleaders are being denied their right to freely express their private views, according to the way he reads some past court decisions.
"We don't have the school system having anything to do with the message and these banners are not going up because of some policy the school system has in order to promote religion," Bryan said. "Without these two factors it remains private student speech and so has First Amendment protection."
For either side this would be a difficult case to prepare and argue before the courts. Similar lawsuits against school boards involving religious issues take years to settle and cost between $350,000 and $1-million.
Wiggins said complications, costs and time consumed increase in these type of cases because organizations and special interest groups file motions and orders with the court that have to be settled before the main case can be heard and resolved.
"Every dollar that's spent on attorney fees and defense of legal costs in this matter is a dollar that doesn't go for the education of students," Wiggins said.
Related articles at News Channel 9:
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Just Say No to Religion. Really, Just Say No!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I found this over at Pharyngula. PZ says to make note of #2.

via Pharyngula and wvcsr

Atheists Clubs in High Schools

Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Damian Thompson: Blogs Editor of the Telegraph Media Group writes about the rise of atheism clubs in U.S. high schools. 
A “triumphalistic, self-righteous atheism” inspired by the work of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris is winning a following among American young people, leading to “atheist clubs” in high schools, according to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
The cardinal, who is President of the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference, says that unbelief among young people is more than a question of stopping going to church: it is part of a fashionable “new atheism” which is every bit as intolerant as Christian fundamentalism. He told John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter:
“In Chicago, we now have atheist clubs in high schools. We didn’t have those five years ago. Kids I would have confirmed in the eighth grade, by the time they’re sophomores in high school say they’re atheists. They don’t just stop going to church, they make a statement. I think that’s new. That’s perhaps a bit more like Europe.”
The Cardinal agreed with Allen’s suggestion that that the atheism of Dawkins and Harris was “highly evangelical”:
“Yes it is, sure. Everybody has said that, and it’s true. It’s the mirror image of a kind of fundamentalism, because it’s very restrictive in its use of reason. It’s also very triumphalistic and self-righteous.”
The Cardinal’s comments will be hard to dismiss as scaremongering. YouTube is crawling with videos by articulate, friendly American teenagers and university students proclaiming their uncompromising atheism; indeed, atheism is one of the fastest-growing movements in the 18-25 age group, casting doubt on old assumptions that the religious impulse is somehow hard-wired into the American psyche.
Yet, as Cardinal George says, there is something strongly akin to religious fundamentalism in the evangelical commitment it arouses in its adherents. He, and the whole of the American Church, must be praying that the certainty of unbelief wears off as the “new atheists” have children and face the prospect of mortality. But, as statistics from Europe indicate, this not a foregone conclusion: atheism, like any other belief system, can be passed from one generation to the next.
In a quick Google search I was not able to confirm the existence of any sanctioned clubs however there were many examples of clubs trying to start but running into significant issues with school administration. This is not something I have seen yet but I have no doubt there are high schools with atheist, agnostic or free thinker clubs.  It is the youth that is the group that will truly move atheism forward.
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Special Area Provided for Religious Signs at Football Games

Friday, October 2, 2009

Image by WRBC via WRBC
When I first read the article below I said WTF? Then I realized that the school had already done the right thing and banned the religious banners. However, due to a complaint they allowed them back, although about 50 yards away, they are still on the school grounds. WTdoubleF? What part of keeping religion and its influence out of public schools don't they understand?!

While the district superintendent supported her decision to not allow the banners with case law, she none the less appreciated the students "christian values". However, one of the best quotes comes from a cheerleader at the high school, "It was heartbreaking to know that our school system is just conforming to the nonbelievers and letting them have their way when there's so many more people wanting the signs. Our freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being taken away." Fail!

The following is the article from Fox News online:
A public high school in Georgia that recently banned banners containing Bible verses from being displayed at its football games will designate an area roughly 50 yards away from the field for cheerleaders, students and others to erect signs with religious themes, the school's principal said Wednesday.
The decision comes after a group of cheerleaders were told they could no longer display the religious banners — a mainstay at the school for eight years — on the football field at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. The ruling caused an uproar in the community.
Jerry Ransom, the school's principal, said he expects the newly designated area, on the school's lawn, will see a large turnout.
"I expect a lot of kids to have signs and T-shirts," Ransom told FOXNews.com on Wednesday. "We've designated an area to hold the 'run-through' signs outside the stadium for those who want to display Christian signs or Muslim signs or whatever they want to do.
"We've got a big front yard here, and we're going to try and accommodate everyone."
Click here for a video.
Ransom said the religious-themed banners, which the school's cheerleaders hand-craft during the summer, have been a fixture at the school's football games since shortly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said he had not received any complaints from football players or other students regarding the signs.

One of the signs that was banned from the football field was a "run-through" banner displayed before a game on Sept. 18. It read: "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called in me Christ Jesus."
Hundreds of people rallied at the high school on Tuesday to support the cheerleaders, who were told last week that they could no longer display the religious-themed signs during Friday night games.
One of those supporters said the decision to ban the signs infringed on the students' freedom of speech.
"Our Constitution does guarantee that our federal government will not establish a religion," youth pastor Jeremy Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "It will also make sure that we are allowed to exercise it without interference from the government. That is what we need to fight for, folks."
Jones, one of the rally's organizers, said Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese violated the students' right to freedom of religion when she ruled last week, following a complaint to the district, that the banners could no longer be shown, since they violated federal law by promoting religion at a school function.
Reese, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, ignited the controversy three days later when she released a statement regarding the banners.
"Personally, I appreciate this expression of their Christian values," Reese said in a statement. "However, as superintendent I have the responsibility of protecting the school district from legal action by groups who do not support their beliefs."
Reese's statement also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have ruled that religious activities at high school football games create the "inescapable conclusion" that the school endorses such activity. Violations can lead to costly lawsuits or the potential loss of federal funding, she said.
"I regret that the cheerleaders can not display their signs in the football stadium without violating the first amendment," Reese's statement continued. "I rely on reading the Bible daily, and I would never deny our students the opportunity to express their religious beliefs."
Taylor Quinn, a cheerleader at the school, said she understood Reese's decision but was "angry" about it nonetheless.
"I'm sad and angry about it, because we're silenced for what we believe in," she told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "It was heartbreaking to know that our school system is just conforming to the nonbelievers and letting them have their way when there's so many more people wanting the signs.
"Our freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being taken away."
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb reportedly disagrees with the ban and will call on City Council officials to support the cheerleaders' right to display the signs.
Meanwhile, Ransom said he expects a fiery crowd Friday night when the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Warriors meet the Ridgeland Panthers.
"That's our big rival," he said. "So on top of everything else, it's going to be a big game no matter what."

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