The students at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High had to give up a tradition that began after 9-11. The school’s football team had the tradition of starting the game by running through a banner with a verse of Christian scripture painted on it. The banner tradition is fairly common for high school football – we used to do it in little league football games – but the addition of a verse is generally something only seen a Christian high schools.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High is in northern Georgia, and the Bible belt extends that far. The context of this high school seems as if it is overflowing with southern Christian culture. Thus, the removal of the banner has had a direct impact.
The issue started with a mother of a football player called the superintendent and suggested that someone might file a lawsuit over the banner if it isn’t removed. Catoosa County schools Superintendent Denia Reese – realizing the legal ramifications – agreed and called for the removal of the banner – and subsequent ones used by cheerleaders on the sidelines.
Despite my Christian faith and the frustration of the folks down in Northern Georgia, I believe this was actually the correct decision.
On the one hand, the school is making sure it isn’t in violation of the first amendment by promoting establishment of religion. The reality is, having a public banner with a biblical verse on it suggests promotion. I am completely aware of southern culture and the fact that Christianity and scripture is utilized by a multiplicity of folks. For the folks down in Georgia this banner wasn’t proselytizing, it was expression who they were – save some students and families. But the line is too fuzzy.
On the other hand, the school is promoting the free exercise of religion. Parents, fans (students or community members) are free to make banners with verses on them. Moreover, the football team is allowed to huddle and have an optional prayer before the game. Faith is not being erased.
I would argue that there is a possible midpoint as far as the banner, and other public expressions of faith, is concerned. Religion is a set of beliefs, with a set of practices that are supposed to align and support those beliefs. Many scientists – in both the hard and soft sciences – are religiously connected. Some individuals are religiously connected to the United States and patriotism. Depending on the verse Christian scripture should be used, but it should be used beside Islamic scripture, Jewish scripture, non – (formal) religious quote etc. If that is done we are expressing the diversity of beliefs in American and not promoting any one of them. And acknowledging wisdom in various religious traditions.