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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

1LionThe Texas Supreme Court ruled today that cheerleaders may continue their suit against the Kountze Independent School District over their regular practice of displaying biblical banners at football games. The high court remanded the case back to the court of appeals. Although the evangelical Liberty Institute is touting the decision, the court did not address the underlying speech claim, merely declaring that the cheerleader case was not moot.

The case began after the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the school district in 2012 over proselytizing banners held up by the cheerleaders as football players ran through them to open games. The banners had such messages as: "But thanks be to God which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:57," and "If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31."

After the school temporarily restricted the religious banners, the cheerleaders filed suit seeking a court order that they had a right under Texas law to promote religion on banners on the football field. Then-Gov. Rick Perry also championed the cheerleaders. The school district changed course immediately and began allowing them to be displayed. Despite the lack of an ongoing injury to the plaintiffs, the case has languished in the Texas court system.

In response to the ruling, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott said, "It is disappointing that Liberty Institute continues to waste the resources of the school system, and the courts, to resolve a matter that is no longer a live issue between these parties. Ultimately, the school district is not in a position to properly argue the limits of religious run-through banners under the First Amendment."

If a current student or teacher at the school sought to challenge the banners under the Establishment Clause, they, along with FFRF, could still file a separate legal challenge, offered FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She called the biblical banners "so patently inappropriate at a public school that should welcome and include everyone, including nonreligious and nonChristian students and fans."

A Lion King-themed concurrence by Justice Willett discussed how messy the case had become:

"What does the trial court's order accomplish? What claims have been preserved? What claims have been waived? In our pitched adversarial system, it is not uncommon for litigants to talk past each other, and uncertainty pervades the parties' briefs to this Court. But answers to these questions are critical for they speak to the fundamental free speech and free exercise rights enshrined in our Constitution."

With the remand, it may be several more years before the case is concluded.

Image by Matthew Cole / Shutterstock.com

Georgia legislators filed three bills this month designed to privilege the state's Christian majority at the expense of the rest of its citizens.

HB 837 is the scariest bill, one of the misnamed "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts." It is meant to exempt religious citizens from generally applicable laws and effectively legalizes discrimination in the name of god. This bill would extend the Supreme Court's infamous Hobby Lobby decision.

HB 816 will require schools to have students broadcast messages before every school event: football games, assemblies, graduations, etc. The goal is to have those students pray and impose religion on every other student.

HB 757 tackles two nonexistent problems: (1) it says the state can't force clergy to perform weddings, and (2) it says the state can't force businesses to open on Saturday or Sunday. The goals are to discourage equal marriage and encourage church attendance. But most concerning, the bill would allow religious organizations to refuse to rent property to gay families, religious minorities, or anyone else of whom the religious organization disapproves.

For a fuller explanation of these bills, please click here It is imperative that you contact members of the House Judiciary Committee, who should be encouraged to let these bills die.

CONTACT

Contact members of the House Judiciary Committee or your representative today to voice your strong opposition to each of these "religious freedom" bills. Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below.

I am writing as your constituent and a Georgia taxpayer. I oppose the many bills purporting to protect "religious freedom" currently before the House Judiciary Committee. All of these bills are designed to advance the religious interests of the majority over those who practice a minority religion or no religion at all.

HB 837 is a repackaged version of SB 129 from 2015. Both are so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" that apply a blanket exemption to all laws, rather than requiring the legislature to deliberate over the merits of a specific religious exemption. This bill would create a legal loophole for any person or corporation who wishes to discriminate in the name of religion. The Constitution already protects the free exercise of religion. The federal RFRA, which HB 837 applies to Georgia, has already damaged the rights of women to obtain contraceptive coverage. I would hate to see Georgia businesses use this law to discriminate against gay people, atheists and religious minorities, or any other minority group.

HB 816, the "Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016," fosters religious privilege by forcing public schools to allow students to promote their personal religious beliefs at school-sponsored events. The intent of the bill is to create forums where students in the religious majority can promote Christianity at athletic events, graduations, and during morning announcements.

HB 757 would allow religious organizations to refuse to rent property to gay families, religious minorities, or anyone else of whom the religious organization disapproves. This type of discrimination should not be legalized. The bill would also grant special status to those who worship on Saturdays and Sundays because they are traditionally "rest days" in the Jewish and Christian religions. This is a clear example of legislating Judeo-Christian privilege. To single out certain days for special status is discriminatory. Friday is the day of rest for many Muslims and for those of the Bahá'í Faith, while other minority religions observe rest days based on lunar cycles (Buddhists, Cherokees) or seasonal changes (Wiccans).

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