Four years after a group of East Texas cheerleaders took on their school district to fight for the right to have religious-themed banners at their school football games, Atlantic Monthly takes a trip into flyover country to talk to the girls.
Some of these young women have already graduated from high school and have been able to get a wider perspective on their battle. I thought the magazine’s take on it all had very little snark and some actual respect for these teenagers. Kountze, by the way, is just north of Houston.
So here's how this lengthy piece started:
The cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, have been painting Bible verses on the banners they hold up at football games for nearly four years. Players line up on Friday nights behind a big stretch of unrolled butcher paper, busting through it as they run onto the field. Instead of a negative slogan, along the lines of “Kill the Tatum Eagles,” the girls wanted to write messages that were more positive, ones “that were really encouraging and honorable to God,” as one of them put it. They proposed this at their cheer camp in the summer of 2012. After the moms who sponsored the club got sign off from the school principal, the girls made their first signs, sporting messages like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” from Philippians, or “A lion, which is strongest among beasts and turns not away from any,” a Proverbs verse. (Kountze High is home to the Lions.)
Ever since, they have been embroiled in the high-profile legal battle those banners sparked. Early in the 2012 season, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Kountze Independent School District’s superintendent alleging that the district was violating the Constitution by allowing a student group to hold up religious messages at a school-sponsored event. After consulting counsel, the superintendent told the town’s high-school principal to shut down the Bible-verse banners. Some of the girls and their parents decided to sue the district and won a temporary injunction. Since then, the case has been bouncing around the Texas state-court system, mostly on a series of procedural claims. The Texas Supreme Court heard the case and sent it back to the Court of Appeals in January; that court is set to consider the case again any day now.
What’s different about this piece is that the cheerleaders and their more activist parents are portrayed as unlikely newsmakers who stumbled into this national drama and are doing their best to stand up for student self-expression.