So the meeting opened up with a prayer from Penny Colton, who was wearing a jean jacket with a sparkly cross on it (I'm sure she means absolutely nothing by that... not). The board then kicked us out for an executive session. I was interviewed by four different stations, two local and two Houston stations. There were three of us there in opposition, but only I delivered a statement. After 6 other people, this is (mostly) what I said:
I am a 2005 graduate of Kountze High School, and a 2010 graduate of Lamar University with a BS in Political Science. My roots in this town are deep.
We live in a great country that seeks to protect religion and government by keeping them separate, where everyone no matter what faith is given equal respect. As a federally funded public school, the separation of church and state applies to KHS, and all of it’s employees and representatives. When I was in attendance here I was a member of the Aristocats Drill Team, and had many friends on the Cheerleading squad. After making either team we were required to review and sign the team constitution. One of the most important things in that constitution is that when you wear the uniform, you are a representative of the ENTIRE school and must act accordingly. Before games, the teams would often pray in a circle off the field; on many occasions I did not participate, but because the circles were on the sidelines where people couldn’t see me, I was not worried about negative reaction from people in the stands. These children do not have this luxury- they must either participate where everyone can see them, or they become very large targets on the sidelines for not participating.
No one is trying to persecute these students for their beliefs. They have a First Amendment right to read their bibles, pray, wear crosses, and express their religion in many other individual and group ways while at school. There are several religious organizations on campus for this purpose. If they wanted to hold individual religious signs in the bleachers or off field, they would be very much within their rights. The problem occurs when one team forces another team to make a public proclamation of their faith on the football field. High school is hard enough without added peer pressure to participate in something that you don’t necessarily believe in.
I understand why students and their parents are afraid to join the FFRF’s lawsuit against the banners- I myself have been threatened with bodily harm for speaking out against this religious bullying, and I saw a sign posted in the middle of town stating “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT LEAVE- WE BELIEVE!”. As a non Christian who was born and raised here, I am appalled that people are insinuating you must buy in to this religious fervor to live here. I can not imagine how the non Christian students in this school feel after seeing and hearing such hatred, but I am sure they are honestly frightened and bewildered. One in four people in the U.S. are not Christian- it is irrational to try and present this school as being made up entirely of Christian students. A public school should be a safe haven for students of ALL religions, and non religions, not a pulpit for one group to try and push their agenda.
The bottom line is that this school should be supportive of all its students and not cater to tyranny of the majority. Everyone is entitled to free speech, but as was decided in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, free speech does not apply when it subjects students to participate who do not wish to comply. Students attending the game MUST read the banner, just as when prayers are said over the loud speaker they have no choice but to listen to them.
Please remember that while THIS particular group of cheerleaders appear to be in agreement on allowing religious statements on the run through banners, some of them will graduate and be replaced by new students. What will the reaction be if that student is a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist? What if she does not want religious statements on the run through banners? Will she be removed from the team? I hope the parents here are able to put themselves in the shoes of others and see the long term negative consequences that their actions will have on this school and its students for years to come.
Thank you for your time and attention,
Polite, informative, and fair. I don't mind kids practicing their religion in public schools, but this nonsense has gone too far.
Immediately following me a woman who we shall refer to as MS gave a statement that I was "one woman, the only woman" who opposes the religious banners. I don't know this person, though I have read some of the ignorant ramblings she's made about the situation, and I was pretty tickled. Unfortunately for her, I AM NOT the only person who disagrees with what is going on. I didn't make the initial phone call, but I fully support the person who did. There are students who have private messaged me from KISD that do not agree with the ban, but they are terrified to speak. And after the things I heard tonight, I can't blame them. The people who spoke made it pretty clear that the ONLY way you could be considered a "good kid" in Kountze is if you get behind this establishment of religion in public schools. Never mind that more than 70% of people in prison are Christian, ONLY Christians can teach good values and morals and make sure these kids don't go down the wrong path. Never mind that some of the brightest minds that have come out of that school were atheists and agnostics, we don't want to talk about them. There were a lot of examples given from the bible of students leading adults to war, but I kept waiting on a REAL example. You know, like, from an event that actually happened. That never happened. It was the closest thing to a Sunday school bible study that I have been to in 15 years.
The board voted unanimously to extend the period for receiving written and oral statments to ten more days. So if you are as disgusted as I am, please don't hesitate to send them an e-mail regarding the subject. These people need to know that numbers do not make what you are doing right, that they need to leave the religious education at home or send their kids to a private Christian school. Enough is enough.
You can send your e-mails to Jerri Smith, Administrative Assistant, so that the board can read your opinion. The e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh! And the best part of the night was when some preacher guy handed me a BADLY hand written card inviting me to some religious meeting at a place called Angel Gardens. I glanced at it and passed it down and he asked "did you already hear about it?". I replied, "no, I'm not a Christian" and smiled at him very politely. He screwed his face up like he had bit into a lemon. After that the closed session was called and we were ushered into the hall where this "gentleman" demanded that we ALL pray. He gathered the cameras around himself, turned towards the three of us, and held out his hands and attempted to pray our demons away. Don't believe me? I took a photo.