Religious freedom need not be a complicated concept. You can believe what you like. You have the right to worship the god (or gods) of your choice – or worship no god at all if you like.
The problem is, some people are never satisfied with exercising that private right. They demand that they be allowed to use government channels to impose what they believe on others.
I’ve written before about some Christian cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, who have taken to creating large banners containing Bible verses that are displayed during high school football games. When school officials told them to stop, the cheerleaders got an attorney to sue on their behalf in state court.
Not surprisingly, the local judge sided with the cheerleaders, accepting their argument that their free speech rights had been violated.
The judge is wrong. No rights have been violated. No one has the right to use a government forum (such as a public school) to impose religion onto others.
Several newspapers took the trouble to point this out recently.
“Those banners are not merely personal expressions of belief, but in that setting become religious messages endorsed by the school, the school district and the local government,” observed The New York Times.
The paper scored Texas officials who are “blind to the dangers to religious freedom when government shifts from being neutral about religion to favoring a particular one.”
The Washington Post asked an obvious question: What if you’re not a member of the majority religion? Or what if you’re a Christian who doesn’t believe that it’s appropriate to reduce the Bible to a football game banner?
The newspaper noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has insisted that our nation is based on the Ten Commandments.
“And if a student in the stands doesn’t believe that?” queried The Post. “Or an aspiring cheerleader happens to be a Hindu? Or a wide receiver is a Christian who is offended by the notion that God cares about the outcome of a high school football game?”
Asserted The Post, “[I]t would be better for the cheerleading squad, the football team and the community they represent if the cheerleaders would drop their suit, stick to messages that are more inclusive and practice and preach their religion in a more appropriate setting.”
Writing in USA Today, Ken Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center, called for an end to sectarian activity at high school events.
“The safest course for all public schools is to simply call for a moment of silence before a game,” Paulson observed. “Players, coaches and fans alike can then pray silently in the tradition of their own faiths or simply sit in reflection. That will keep schools out of court, leave freedom of faith intact and ensure an even playing field for all religions.”
Another option would be for the cheerleaders in Kountze and all of those who agree with them to understand that not everyone shares their enthusiasm for ostentatious public displays of faith and in-your-face forms of proselytizing.
Some people feel this way because they don’t share the faith being promoted. Others consider public prayer a less-than-genuine form of spirituality.
Pardon me as I step into the pulpit for a minute to remind the cheerleaders of Kountze that they might want to take some advice from the founder of the religion they claim to treasure so much.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” Jesus observed in the Book of Matthew. “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”