Want to Understand the Culture Wars? Start Here…

Even if you don’t share ILYBYGTH’s obsessive fascination with America’s culture wars, you probably noticed a few of its recent battles. Can a baker refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Can cheerleaders at a public school cheer for Jesus? As a recent article reminds us, if we really want to understand these fights, we need to look beyond Bibles and bakeshops. The behind-the-scenes power of legal activist groups has always fueled these culture-war battles.

kountze-cheerleaders

The culture-war trenches. But not the culture-war Pentagon.

It has been this way from the very beginning. Back in 1925, the furious creation/evolution fight in Tennessee would never have happened if it weren’t for the influence of the American Civil Liberties Union. Sure, proto-creationists had passed a sweeping anti-evolution law. And, yes, plenty of people had noticed the goings-on in state legislatures. (I flesh out the full context in my book about educational conservatism.) But only when the ACLU offered to sponsor a legal challenge did the Scopes Trial actually gain momentum.

In our century it has been the same. SAGLRROILYBYGTH remember the case from Kountze, Texas. Starting in 2012, cheerleaders at the high school began displaying huge banners with Christian Biblical messages. It’s easy to see how such outright religious preaching at a public school might ruffle feathers. But it was only when the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation intervened that the case became a national sensation.

This sort of legal activism has not been limited to the liberal side. As Daniel Bennett describes at Religion & Politics, the conservative religious Alliance Defending Freedom has scored impressive legal victories over the past decade. As Professor Bennett notes, ADF has repeatedly made its case at the US Supreme Court, in favor of the right of bakers to discriminate against homosexual weddings or in favor of the right of religious schools to receive tax money.

adf logo

A culture-war army of well-dressed lawyers…

These days, as Bennett describes, ADF employs forty full-time attorneys, sniffing out ways to project the power of conservative religious values in the public square. ADF takes in tens of millions of dollars per year to stake out the legal rights of conservative Christians in a secularizing society.

Headlines talk about creationism, public prayer, and transgender issues. Time and time again, it has been the Alliance Defending Freedom who has pushed these cases into the limelight, defending the rights of radical creationist scientists, anti-transgender pastors, or Christian prayer leaders at public town meetings.

Cheerleaders and bakers matter, of course. In order to understand how these cases move from local controversies to national symbols, though, we need to recognize the influence of legal activist groups.

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In the News: Atheist Hate Crime

Three people are dead, shot in the head by a murderous thug. That thug was an outspoken atheist, and the victims were publicly identified as members of a religious group. Does this count as an atheist hate crime?

To be fair, many of the facts are still up in the air, but it does not seem disputed that Craig Stephen Hicks shot three of his neighbors dead. The neighbors were all Muslim, and Hicks was an outspoken atheist.

According to a story on Yahoo News, Hicks had posted the following rant on his Facebook page:

There’s nothing complicated about it, and I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being — which your religion does with self-righteous gusto, . . . the moment that your religion claims any kind of jurisdiction over my experience, you insult me on a level that you can’t even begin to comprehend.

Is this an escalation of culture-war polemics to real-war violence? ILYBYGTH readers will recall the episode from August, 2012, when Floyd Lee Corkins shot a security guard in the office of the conservative Family Research Council. Is this another example of anti-religious terrorism?

For their part, leading atheists are scrambling to make sense of these charges. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has issued a statement blaming mental instability, not atheism, for the atrocity. Yet as Hemant Mehta (my personal favorite atheist pundit) has charged, if this shooter had been a member of any religion, leaders of that religion would be called onto the carpet to separate themselves publicly from the act.

Is it fair to ask if militant atheism somehow contributed to this heinous murder?

How Far Should the Creationist Purge Go?

Is a creationist historian worse than a socialist one? That’s the question science pundit Jerry Coyne is not asking. But he should be.

The 1941 report from the Guardians of American Education. Does Prof. Coyne really want to join this team?

The 1941 report from the Guardians of American Education. Does Prof. Coyne really want to join this team?

Like a lot of people, I’m a fan of Jerry Coyne. His tenacious attacks on all things religious are witty and smart. But in this case, his historical short-sightedness has caused him to blunder into dangerous terrain.

Here’s the story: In his continuing campaign against creationism, Coyne and his allies have singled out the creationist activism of Professor Emerson T. McMullen. McMullen teaches history classes at Georgia Southern University. Based on Coyne’s evidence, it does seem as if McMullen injects a good deal of proselytization into his classes.

McMullen teaches classes about the history of science and evolution. And, as one student noted in her evaluation, he gives extra credit if students attend religious films. As she warned, “most of it is trying to convert you, but hey, free points!”

Coyne and his allies in the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the administration of Georgia Southern. They urged GSU to “investigate” McMullen’s teaching. They did not object to teaching about religious views, especially in a history class, but they did object to McMullen’s practice of pushing those views on students.

This presents us with a difficult question: How far do we want to go in purging creationists from college faculties? We agree that McMullen’s teaching seems to cross over into preaching. But there are a couple of ominous historical parallels that Professor Coyne seems to dismiss too breezily.

So, first, as Coyne and Co. acknowledge, there is no constitutional ban on teaching religion in publicly funded schools. As Justice Tom Clark made clear in his landmark 1963 opinion in the Schempp case,

Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.

As Justice Clark specified, and as Professor Coyne acknowledged, the issue is not the teaching of religion, but the preaching of religion. As subsequent SCOTUS rulings have specified, public schools must not lend their imprimatur to religious preaching by either students or teachers. McMullen seems to be doing more than teaching about creationism. He appears to be using his authority as a teacher—dispensing grades and extra credit—to encourage students to repeat creationist-friendly ideas.

Does this mean we should actively “investigate” all such teaching? That universities have a constitutional duty to get rid of any professors or classes that move from teaching about religious ideas to preaching the ideas themselves? I think not, for two reasons.

First, university teaching is fundamentally different from K-12 teaching. The SCOTUS decisions about teaching and preaching have mostly dealt with younger students at public schools. Though Georgia Southern is a school that receives tax funding, its status as a university makes it a substantially different case from a high school, middle school, or elementary. The main issue in the Schempp verdict was that school prayer was something students could not evade. Such students were coerced, in effect, into listening to preaching. If, like the young Schempp himself, they have a pass to leave the classroom during prayers, they are still singled out by that action.  In contrast, students in college have enormous freedom to select classes. The faculties, in most cases, are much broader and more diverse. In most public high schools, students are assigned to a teacher without much input. In college, on the other hand, students put together their own schedules.

More important, Coyne doesn’t seem to grasp the tradition he would be joining if his McMullen campaign were successful, though Coyne nods to the importance of academic freedom. As I detail in my upcoming book, conservatives have conducted similar campaigns against leftist professors for decades. I doubt Professor Coyne wants to open up universities to allegations and investigations of ideologically suspicious professors.

In 1941, for example, a group of conservative leaders from the American Legion and the Advertising Federation of America teamed up to encourage Coyne-like investigations of college professors. Their main target was Professor Harold Rugg of Teachers College, Columbia University.

Should we guard the gate?

Should we guard the gate?

As the Guardians of American Education, they investigated Rugg’s teaching. They polled students and obtained copies of syllabi and course descriptions. One of Rugg’s courses, they alleged, featured what they called the “denial of certain natural and inalienable rights of man.” They gave specific examples of the way Rugg used his position as a professor to proselytize. On page 59 of Rugg’s syllabus for a course in Educational Foundations, for instance, Rugg pushed students to “admit the far too rottenness in our social, political, and financial life.”

Is this the sort of club Professor Coyne wants to join? In his earlier campaign against Eric Hedin at Ball State, Coyne alienated allies such as PZ Myers and Larry Moran. Both Moran and Myers thought that Coyne had gone too far in ignoring the sometimes-uncomfortable need to respect academic freedom. And that case was stronger than this one, since Hedin was teaching intelligent design as if it were mainstream science.

So, back to our main question: How far do we want to go to punish professors for their views? What should we do?

The purge is not the right approach. Instead, we should follow the model of Portland parents. When secular parents found out about preaching in an after-school club, they did not shut the club down. They couldn’t. The “Good News Club” had every constitutional right to do what it was doing. But the Portland parents realized that free speech and academic freedom cut both ways. They conducted a campaign to warn their fellow parents about the activities of the Good News Clubs.

That should be our model here. We do not want to slide into witch hunts and creationist-baiting. We do not want to encourage universities to investigate and purge faculty for their beliefs. Instead, we can let students at Georgia Southern know what goes on in McMullen’s classes. The publicity campaign should not be targeted at the administration of Georgia Southern, but rather at its students.

How far do we want to go in purging professors? In this case, Coyne goes too far.

Shout at the Devil

Can religious groups pass out religious literature in public schools? How about if the religion is Satanism, and the literature is The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities?

What's good for the goose...

What’s good for the goose…

Apologies: This news came out about ten days ago, but I’ve been wrapped up in book research and somehow missed it. Better late than never, right?

So here’s the story in a nutshell: In Orange County, Florida, the Satanic Temple has announced plans to distribute its children’s book in public schools. Why? Because evangelical Protestant groups plan to pass out Bibles and Christian literature.

According to the Satanic group’s announcement, the plan hopes to attract attention to the need for secularism. As in other high-profile cases—such as plans for a Black Mass at Harvard—the group insists it does not really worship Satan, but rather wants Americans to shake off their religious blinders.

As the temple’s spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, explained,

if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth.

Indeed, the book uses Satanic imagery to promote notions of pluralism and anti-bullying. The Satanic children are represented as the only ones able to use “patience and open-mindedness” to understand kids who are different. The smiling Satanic children in the book use “inclusive language” and “[spread] knowledge … to dispel fear and ignorance.”

All sounds pretty innocent, right? And, indeed, for secular folks, this publicity stunt might indeed seem to be what one journalist called “a hilarious response to a pro-religion court ruling.”

Spreading knowledge?  Or fueling fundamentalist fears?

Spreading knowledge? Or fueling fundamentalist fears?

Personally, I agree. This effort seems to make a powerful statement about the true possibilities of religious freedom in public schools. In other cases, we’ve seen parents protest against evangelical outreach to public schools. And we’ve wondered if Jesus-loving cheerleaders would really accept similar sorts of religious free speech from other religions. If public schools are really going to work, they don’t need to ban religion. But they can’t support just one sort of religion, either.

In the end, though, I can’t help but wonder if this sort of exposure does more harm than good to the very cause the Satanists claim to espouse. They came to Orange County in an effort to support the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Satanists want to make the point that no religious literature should be permitted in public schools; no religious evangelists should be allowed to target public-school students.

As regular ILYBYGTH readers know, I’m an outsider to the world of conservative evangelical religion. But after having spent some time with conservative evangelicals and “fundamentalists,” I’m now wondering if the Satanists’ tongue-in-cheek deviltry might backfire. With this Florida campaign, the Satanic Temple is literally putting the devil on the side of the atheists. Conservative pundits can and will point to the Satanists’ efforts as evidence of the evil tilt of atheists.

So here’s the question: Is this Satanic Temple effort genius? Or self-destructive?

Does it make the point that “religious freedom” must really mean religious freedom for ALL religions? Or does it simply fuel conservative warnings that secularism is just a front for Satan?

The OTHER Hobby Lobby Case

You’ve been following Hobby Lobby’s case for religious freedom before the US Supreme Court.  But did you know Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green has also prepared an ambitious Bible curriculum for use in America’s public schools?

According to Religion News Service, the school board of Mustang, Oklahoma has voted to use the Bible curriculum in its public schools.  Of course, despite some rumblings to the contrary, there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching the Bible in public schools.  The US Supreme Court’s ruling in 1963’s Schempp decision specified that the Bible can and should be taught in public schools, as long as it is not taught devotionally.  That is, children can learn about the Bible, about religion, but not be drilled in any particular religious belief.

But it often seems as if the folks who want to see more Bible in public schools have a decidedly devotional bias to their activism.  As Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University found in his study of Texas Bible classes, a significant proportion of them end up teaching religion, not just teaching about religion.

In this case, no one questions Steve Green’s ardent religiosity.  As the Religion News Service article points out, Green has admitted in public statements that he hopes the Bible curriculum will show that the Bible is “good,” that it’s “true,” and that the Bible’s impact,

whether (upon) our government, education, science, art, literature, family … when we apply it to our lives in all aspects of our life, that it has been good.

It seems evident that Green hopes this Bible curriculum will lead students toward faith, at least incidentally.  For that reason, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has promised to “scrutinize” the Bible curriculum.

More evidence, it seems, of the uselessness of talking about “America’s public schools” in general.  Schools in some communities, such as Mustang, Oklahoma, may welcome evangelical Protestant curricula into their class schedules.  In other places, Green’s Bible curriculum will not be an issue.  Local school boards make decisions that fit with the cultural politics of their local communities.

 

Jesus in Public Schools: In through the Back Door?

Is it okay for religious missionaries to use public schools as recruiting grounds?

Usually we say no.  But what about when the religious missionaries just want to help struggling districts?  What if they promise to leave the Jesus at the door and just provide social services to low-income students?

In the pages of Christianity Today we read of the public-school leadership of evangelical Don Coleman.  Coleman recently won election as chair of Richmond, Virginia’s school board.

For those of us who watch the intersections of public education and religiosity, ought we be concerned by Coleman’s attitude that “education is one of the greatest open doors for urban missions”?

According to the Christianity Today piece, Coleman supports a heavily intertwined church and state.  Local churches “adopt” students, in order to help students overcome significant personal problems.  Coleman wants local churches to become so helpful to schools in low-income areas that the public schools eventually welcome churches’ help.

The story raises some tricky questions.  Personally, I think a students-first approach is a good idea.  As Coleman says, “We don’t fight over prayer.”  Why can’t churches help struggling public schools?  Seems like a win-win.  Seems like someone would have to be pretty heartless to oppose helping a young woman go to college while the rest of her family languishes in jail.

But the underlying issues don’t seem any different from other school-church cases.  Constitutionally, public schools ought to be institutions in which all students are made to feel welcome, regardless of religious or non-religious background.  What about non-Christian students in Richmond schools?  Will they feel equally at home in schools “adopted” by evangelical Christian churches?  Or what about atheist students?  Ought public schools be places in which they have the gospel preached to them by outside missionaries?

Worst of all, we must ask if there is a racial or class bias at play here.  Richmond’s schools are heavily black and poor.  Would students in a more affluent or whiter school district be subjected to religious proselytization as part of their school day?  Or, if they were, wouldn’t activist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation or the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have more to say about it?

 

 

 

We’re All a Bunch of Losers

Both sides in our continuing culture wars assume they are losing.  Why?

We can see some recent examples from smart people on either side of the creation/evolution controversy right here on ILYBYGTH.

Recently, I argued that evolution was winning.  Winning big.

Some of the responses to that argument show that both sides are reluctant to admit they might not be losers in this fight.

For example, Tim, a self-identified homeschooling creationist, agreed that evolution was winning.  As he put it,

Creationists do not want creationism in public schools because it would taught incorrectly. Most pastors do not know how to accurately teach creationism, how in the world would we expect the average person to be able to? Does this in some sense prove evolution is winning? Sure, I could give you that. But we already know it will.

On the other hand, Bunto Skiffler took me to task for dangerously naïve optimism.  As he argued,

I believe General Westmoreland said something similar about our involvement in Vietnam before the start of 1968.

sincerely,
a person who lives in the fiefdom of Texas right now

Why doesn’t anyone want to admit they might be on the winning side?

I think the answer may lie with our very different definitions of winning and losing.

For evolution-promoters like me, creationists seem to be winning when they can impose any sort of non-evolutionary science in public-school classrooms.  Or even in private-school classrooms.  The fact that nearly half of American adults seem to agree with a strongly creationist idea about the origins of humanity makes it seem to folks like me that creationism is winning.

On the other hand, creationists might hearken back to a time when America’s public schools evinced a recognizably Protestant religiosity.  Back when kids in public schools read the Bible—the Protestant Bible, that is—prayed with their teachers, and generally learned that God wanted them to be better students.  Seen from that perspective, today’s public schools with their goals of pluralism and secularism might make it look as if evolution has won the field.

We must also consider the fact that pundits on both sides emphasize their own victimhood.  Reading the produce of Americans United or the Freedom from Religion Foundation makes American public schools seem under siege by powerful religious zealots.  On the other side, browsers of literature from the Alliance Defending Freedom or the Family Research Council might be forgiven for concluding that fire-breathing secularists crush any attempt at including healthy religion in public schools.

In other words, being a loser is attractive.

Each side emphasizes their own loser status in order to mobilize followers.  Evolution activists won’t be motivated to get off the couch if they are told that evolution is winning.  Creationist activists, similarly, might relax if they are told they need only be patient.

We’re all a bunch of losers in this fight.  Except, of course, we’re not.

I’ll say it again: Seen from an historical perspective, evolution education is winning.  If you don’t believe it, read my book.  Creation/evolution struggles have only deadlocked in the past thirty years or so.  In the 1920s, evolution barely made a dent.  Now evolution promoters feel put out if creationists have any influence at all.

Evolution is winning.  I’m not afraid to say it: I’m a winner.

 

A Long Way from Texas…

Can cheerleaders at a public school sport Biblical phrases on banners?

The cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, think so.  So does the Texas Attorney General.  So do tens of thousands of Facebook supporters of the cheer team.

But an important part of this story is often being left out by coverage in some mainstream media outlets. Why?

We’ve reported on this story before.  In short, this group of cheerleaders sued when their school superintendent banned their religious banners from football games.  So far, the cheerleaders have been allowed to keep on cheering for Jesus at their games.

Recently, we’ve noticed a puzzling trend in the reporting about this story.  An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times, for instance, bemoaned the situation in Kountze.  “In this country — including in Texas — the Constitution does not leave religious freedom up to majority rule,” the editors insisted.

I agree with the NYT‘s basic position: the SCOTUS precedent in 2000’s Sante Fe ISD v. Doe speaks directly to this case.  Even student-led prayer, if sanctioned by the school district, implies an endorsement of particular religious beliefs by the government.  Though the Kountze cheerleaders insist that their banners represent purely private speech, this seems a stretch.

However, I’m puzzled by the way NYT coverage has left out a vital part of this story.  For those of us who want to understand the ways conservatism works in American education, whether it be about evolution, school prayer, sex education, or other issues, the skewed coverage in the NYT makes the job much harder.

Here’s the problem:  In yesterday’s editorial and in earlier reporting on this Kountze story, the NYT left out an important key player in the drama.  The NYT neglected to mention the role of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  This Wisconsin-based group warned the school superintendent of its plans to sue over the banner issue.  Only then did the superintendent ban the cheerleaders’ religious practice.

The NYT misled readers with its description of the reasoning in Texas.  The editors described the case as follows:

“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.       

“That’s why officials of the school district last month prohibited the banners at football games.”

But the way the story really played out, the school district only prohibited the banners under pressure.  In fact, as the Los Angeles Times reported, the school superintendent himself supported the cheerleaders.

If we hope to understand the dynamic, in this case or in the many other school-prayer cases in history and in the news, we must not omit such an important element.

Please do not misunderstand: I am not denouncing the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  I do not think that sectarian prayers belong at public-school events.  But I do want to understand these cases, and ignoring important elements such as the role of outside organizations leaves us unable to understand the situation.

As political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have argued in their books Ten Thousand Democracies and Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, teachers and school districts respond to local culture.  When communities want prayer and creationism in public schools, schools include prayer and creationism.

As Berkman and Plutzer proved with their survey of high-school biology teachers, the beliefs of those teachers usually closely match those of their local communities.

In the Kountze case, the school district, including even the superintendent who banned the banners, supports the cheerleaders.  As superintendent Kevin Weldon told the LA Times, the judge in this case “was in a pretty tough predicament, like myself. . . . I personally applaud the kids for standing up for their beliefs in such a bold way.”

If we hope to understand the ways issues such as creationism and school prayer play out in America’s schools, we can’t let ourselves miss the way schools, teachers, and school districts actually function.  Teachers, as Berkman and Plutzer insist, are “street-level bureaucrats.”  They represent majority opinion in their communities.  The same is often true for superintendents such as Kevin Weldon in Kountze.

None of this is new.  In the Scopes Trial in 1925, the prohibition of evolution in Dayton, Tennessee only became controversial when the American Civil Liberties Union became involved.  More recently, as political scientists Kenneth Dolbeare and Phillip Hammond demonstrated in the 1970s, US Supreme Court decisions about school prayer and Bible reading often have no discernable effect on school practice.  After the 1962 and 1963 Supreme Court decisions against the reading of the Bible and reciting of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools, Dolbeare and Hammond found that all the schools in their survey continued to pray and read the Bible.  Most important, those practices caused absolutely no controversy in the communities they studied.

If we hope to understand school prayer controversies, we can’t allow ourselves to leave out the role of key players such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  Perhaps the NYT editors hoped to avoid the old chestnut that only “outside agitators” brought about this sort of school controversy.  Whatever their reasons, they misrepresent the story and make it more difficult for outsiders like me to understand the nature of these school battles.

Cheering for Jesus in a Public School

Source: KNUE

Can they or can’t they?

No one seems too sure of the situation in Kountze, Texas.  In this town of around 2,000, high-school cheerleaders have attracted attention for their religious banners at school football games.

In late September, the district superintendent banned the explicitly Christian banners, under pressure from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The cheerleaders sued.  The latest decision has been that the cheerleaders can continue to display the banners while the wheels of Constitutional justice grind along.

The case demonstrates the ferocious complexity of school-prayer rules and traditions.  The cheerleaders seem entirely oblivious to the Constitutional issues.  In interviews, they tend to hurt their own legal case by stating such things as “It’s our religion and we want to portray that.”  Or this gem about the complainants, “They can be offended, because that’s their right.”

There is not much doubt of the facts of the case.  The banners are obviously and designedly Christian.  They bear such Biblical phrases as the following:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31.”

“But thanks be to God which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:57.”

Image Source: Los Angeles Times

The SCOTUS precedents in this sort of case are fairly clear.  The most obvious precedent is Santa Fe v. Doe (2000), the famous football-game-prayer case.  In that case, the Court ruled that a prayer at a high school football game, even when led by students, implies school endorsement of religion.

Lawyers in this case are keenly aware of the precedent.  The cheerleaders’ lawyers, therefore, emphasize the fact that this cheer group is not a school-sponsored organization.  They have no coach, they have no school-provided budget.  In essence, the cheerleaders claim that theirs is purely private speech.  If so, they would have a strong case for passing Constitutional muster.  Their lawyers have also cited the SCOTUS precedent of Tinker v. Des Moines, in which student protest-armbands against the Vietnam War were ruled protected free speech.

The school district has made the predictable counter-argument.  The cheer team, the district has argued, represents the school at a public function.  Cheerleaders must sign a “cheerleaders’ constitution,” which includes a pledge to represent the school well.  As district attorney Tom Brandt argued, “This is government speech. It’s on public property. The cheerleaders represent the school.”

This case also demonstrates the fact that public schooling in America is fractured into what political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have called “Ten Thousand Democracies.”   Regardless of SCOTUS decisions or state education policy, local school districts often support policies that represent the majority views of local communities.  Arguments in favor of such policies are usually framed in terms of the will of the majority.  As one of the cheerleaders insisted, “so far there hasn’t been any opposition to what we’re doing. Nothing but support.”  Such has been the case for much of the history of religion in public schools.  Local schools tend to endorse and embody local traditions.  Many of those traditions, like explicitly Christian prayer at football games, seem to imply an official endorsement of a particular religion.

It has often required outside intervention to draw attention to these continuing traditions.  In this case, that pressure came from Madison, Wisconsin, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

And school prayer has often, as in this case, proven to be enormously popular.  In this case, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has publicly supported the cheerleaders.  And the Facebook page set up in their support looks ready to top the 50,000 friends mark.

So, whether or not the Kountze cheerleaders can or can’t lead prayers at football games, they are.  Whether or not they will be allowed to continue will likely hinge on whether or not their activities are seen as school-sponsored, or private.