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Why the Fuss?

October 1, 2009

Steve B left a long comment on my post about the cheerleaders quoting the Bible on the field; he asks some good questions, chief among them: Why not just ignore it?

These people are in Tennessee, I will never meet them. Who really gives a shit?  To be totally honest, my life probably won’t change a bit, no matter what these people do.  If they declared the high school a sovereign nation unbound by the Constitution, I wouldn’t miss them a bit.  I’d say, let them go!  Good riddance!

But they haven’t seceded, so I have to ask, what makes people American?  I like to think that a big part of being American is that all the different governments that operate in this country have agreed to a certain minimal set of ground rules.

In this case, the cheerleaders represent the high school.  The high school represents the town.  The town is bound by the Constitution.  When it decides on its own that a shitload of Supreme Court jurisprudence doesn’t apply to it, the town makes a little crack in the Constitutional framework.  It’s not a big one.  The republic isn’t going to collapse overnight.  But, it is essentially saying that the town is unbound by the rules that bind us all.

Of course, the same would be true for any unconstitutional behavior.  I think it’s the same when DC restricted gun ownership and every time cops violate the due process rights of a suspect.  If people decide t0 abandon their strictures, the Second and Fourth Amendments aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

That should take care of the “who cares” element of your comment.  As to the ‘plight’ of atheists – I don’t think there really is a plight.  Why?  Because the Constitution keeps the majority religion from insinuating itself into our civic lives. The whole reason I don’t feel oppressed is that the founders were wise enough to refuse to adopt a state religion or religious tests for officials.

No public prayer is going to make me become a Christian, but that doesn’t mean that public prayer is acceptable.  I don’t say that as an atheist, even though I definitely am one, but as someone who respects the Constitution.  Let me come off my high horse for just a second.  If I lived in a country with an official religion, I would deal with it.  It’s not the presence of religious thought that bothers me, it’s the endorsement of it by that school in this country.  I wouldn’t want the cheerleaders to hold up a banner that says “there’s no god, so go score a touchdown on your own initiative” any more than I support the stupid banners that they had.

To address your final point – by pointing out their wrongness, I don’t increase the divide between religion and atheism any more than arresting car thieves increases the divide between car thieves and car owners.  They are the ones in the wrong here, and that should be pointed out.

Finally, I leave you with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Baptist congregation from Danbury, Connecticut.  With his typical  genius, he gives voice to the notion that we all benefit from the freedom afforded to us under the First Amendment:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Thanks for your thoughtful response, and keep ’em coming.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    October 2, 2009 9:46 am

    The aristocrat choir sings, “What’s the ruckus?”

  2. JoJo permalink
    October 2, 2009 2:18 pm

    i dunno, i would definitely root for the team whose cheerleaders chanted “there’s no god, so go score a touchdown on your own initiative”. also, field goals are meaningless.

    • Barry permalink*
      October 2, 2009 2:21 pm

      Well you must hate the Constitution as much as those jerks do. Jerk.

  3. Barry permalink*
    October 2, 2009 3:40 pm

    2009 October 2

    I have to agree with Bush on this one. You should probably ignore the Miley Cyrus look-a-likes and their ability to quote scripture. This appears to be a team’s spontaneous gesture with a quote that advocates driving towards a goal. My high school team quoted Dostoevsky “suffering is the sole origin of consciousness” on our team t-shirts. Does that mean I subscribe to the beliefs of some dead Russian? No. This is a case of a group of kids (probably 100% Christian in that neck of the woods) finding a quote that energized them as a team. Its not a crucifix in a classroom or a moment of prayer enforced by the coach. This would be different if the stadium recited the Lords Prayer over the loud speaker after the National Anthem.

    Thumping you copy of the constitution in outrage over the mere utterance of the word god on public school property can, at times, seem hypocritical. You claim to champion the constitution in one respect but then seek to curtail the right of free expression. Should public school football players not be allowed to point to the sky after scoring a touchdown? Should they not be allowed to get scripture tattooed on their arms? Kneel in prayer before a game? I wouldn’t advocate a coach leading a prayer but if a group of all of the believers among them want to gather and say a few words so be it.

    Granted this banner is big and in-your-face, but it lacks the State sponsorship or involvement that elevates it to being something you should get up in arms about. I don’t see the victim here. Maybe the state action was the cheerleaders raiding the art teacher’s office for puffy paint?


    2009 October 2
    It’s not a free speech issue. They are continuing the practice outside the games. That’s fine. They can and should say what they want to as individuals. As the school’s cheerleaders at the school’s event, it’s a different story.

    Their quotations come from the New Testament (the ones I have seen came from Philippians and Timothy). It’s not outrage over the word “god”; it’s outrage over Christianity being endorsed by a public school.

    And it’s clearly not spontaneous. This was going on for years before someone complained. The football coach, superintendent, cheerleading coach, and mayor knew about it, and endorsed it.

    Again, look at what the principal said – if you don’t like our Christian beliefs, find a different football game to go to.

    That’s 180 degrees from what would go on at a public school that abides by the Establishment Clause.

  4. David permalink
    October 5, 2009 12:41 pm

    Day-um! I hope Barry put some baby powder on his hand before that bitch-slap.

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