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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