The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants you to help give perspective to a Texas school district over allowing religious "run-through" banners displayed by school cheerleaders on the field during school football games. The Kountze ISD Board of Trustees has asked for public input.
FFRF maintains that banners on the football field are perceived as official messages of the school and as such, may not endorse Christianity. FFRF contacted the District in the fall and requested that the religious banners no longer be used. In September of 2012 the District's former superintendent agreed and disallowed religious messages on the run-through banners. Liberty Institute, on behalf of school cheerleaders, filed suit against the district. A Texas court granted a temporary injunction, which allows the religious banners until trial in June.
The cheerleaders and their advocates have claimed the messages painted on the banners are "inspirational." But, the messages are insulting and exclude members of the community who are non-Christians, non-religious, or Christians who do not subscribe to divisive biblical messages being promoted by the school at a football game.
"If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31," read one of the banners displayed by cheerleaders in school uniforms. Others have said:
But thanks be to God, which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:57
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil. 3:14
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14.
The banners marginalize community members who are not in agreement with the proselytizing messages. FFRF disputes Liberty Institute's position that the banners are merely private speech. Because the banners are school-sponsored speech they must follow the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
The Kountze Independent School District is receiving comments on the religious banners through Friday. FFRF encourages you to speak out and let the District know that the divisive banners are unwelcoming and that the Board should take action to prevent the District's display of biblical banners.
Interim Superintendent Reese Briggs
Click on the link below to send him an email:
Kountze Independent School District
PO Box 460
Kountze, Texas 77625
Phone: (409) 246-3352
Fax: (409) 246-3217
Contact the local media
Email a letter to the editor of the area's newspaper, The Beaumont Enterprise:
One sentence is sufficient. Your own words are best. But you may wish to copy this paragraph in your correspondence:
I support Kountze ISD's original decision to stop the display of bible verse banners on the football field.
Cheerleaders and other representatives of the school should not misuse the privilege the school confers on them to promote Christianity.
The banners confer an appearance of official school endorsement, and marginalize members of the community who do not conform to the religious beliefs espoused in the messages. Please put an end to school-sponsored religious banners and show respect for the Establishment Clause and the rights of conscience of all members of our pluralistic society.
Thank you. (Sign name)
First they did a poll, then they did a head count.
Many have suspected it, but now there's proof: Americans are not as religious as the polls report.
Only half of those who say they regularly attend church actually do!
According to the traditional polls, 40% of the United States population reports attending church regularly. This Þgure has held remarkably constant for decades. Responding to a 1992 Gallup poll asking, "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days?" 42% of adult Americans said "Yes."
But a new study questions this prevailing wisdom. "What The Polls Don't Show: A Closer Look At U.S. Church Attendance" was published in the December 1993 American Sociological Review, casting serious doubt on the supposedly high rate of regular church attendance. The authors are C. Kirk Hadaway (United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Adjunct Faculty at Hartford Seminary), Penny Long Marler (Assistant Professor of Religion at Samford University), and Mark Chaves (Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame).
"In the sociological literature," the three scholars write, "this high participation rate [40%] is prominently and widely cited to bolster attacks against the secularization hypothesis." They give widespread examples of this "social fact" in sociology texts, history texts, and journalism.
But many observers have doubted this characterization of high American religiosity--it doesn't seem to square with reality. This is especially true among many "old-line" Protestant denominations that have experienced membership losses and slowing growth rates the past few decades.
"Consistently high levels of church attendance and a growing U.S. population suggest that most major denominations should be thriving and growing," the authors point out, "[y]et most are not. Claims that losses in old-line denominations are more than offset by gains in evangelical denominations . . . do not sufÞce. In addition to the fact that evangelical gains simply are not numerically large enough, Americans in declining denominations still claim high levels of membership and attendance."
Church members appear to be "over-reporting" (to phrase it politely) their attendance. It has long been known that people tend to make themselves look better than they are in surveys. Overreporting (or underreporting) is often due to "social desirability" factors. Many people, for example, tell pollsters that they vote regularly, although their names are absent from voting records. Many youths underreport deviant behavior, such as substance abuse.
Suspecting that poll respondents "substantially overstate actual church attendance," Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves hit upon a novel idea. First they did a poll, then they did a head count.
Then they compared the polls to the pews. Using a variety of data sources and strategies, they estimated count-based church rates among Protestants and Catholics in a rural Ohio county (Ashtabula) and among Catholics in 18 dioceses nationwide.
To be as accurate as possible, the authors located every single church in the county, driving the length of every road. They found 172 Christian churches, 44 more than the 128 listed for Ashtabula County in Churches and Church Membership in the United States 1990. Some congregations were counted physically, and average attendance counts were received from other churches through denominational yearbooks, telephone interviews, and letters. (It is not to be expected that churches would underreport their attendance.)
"The results are dramatic," they write. Church attendance rates "are approximately one-half the generally accepted levels."
Although 35.8% of Protestants said they regularly attend church, only 19.6% showed up. The 35.8% survey result is consistent with 1991 statewide and 1992 Cincinnati polls yielding 36%.
Only 25% of Catholics were counted in church, compared to 51% reported. The 51% survey result is similar to polls in New York (44.8%), Chicago (48.5%) and Cincinnati (59.3%).
One of the harshest attacks on this new study came from Catholic priest/sociologist Andrew Greeley, who called it "a sloppy piece of work," according to Christian Century. But Gerald Marwell, the review editor who decided to publish the study, said he was not surprised by Greeley's reaction: "To some extent he [Greeley] was one of the people who is argued against in the research." Marwell pointed out that the ASR study was reviewed before publication by a panel of noted sociologists.
"To generalize from a county in Ohio to all of Protestant America is irresponsible," said Greeley. Marwell responded that the burden of proof is on the critics to demonstrate how the county in this study is out of line with the rest of the nation.
Jay Demerath, professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, responded to the survey's conclusion that Americans have been inßating church attendance. He said: "I think the study needs to be taken very seriously indeed. . . . Gallup and other pollsters are aware of this. It's kind of a dirty little secret."
The implications are obvious. If church attendance reports are unreliable, what about other "facts" of American religiosity? What about belief in God?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked University of Wisconsin football coach Barry Alvarez to end his team's "chaplain" arrangement with a Catholic priest. The Foundation has asked that Rev. Michael Burke no longer be allowed to accompany the football team as its "chaplain," ofÞcial or de facto.
Burke is referred to by athletic department employees as the team's chaplain and ßew with the team to the Rose Bowl, also accompanying them to a celebration after their Rose Bowl victory in Milwaukee with Vice-President Al Gore. A recent Wisconsin State Journal article identiÞed Burke as the team's chaplain, and staff members at the Athletic Department and the football division conÞrmed that he is "the Badger chaplain."
"The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a secular institution," said Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation president. "This is not Notre Dame!" Alvarez, a Catholic, was recruited several years ago from a position at Notre Dame.
Following a similar Foundation complaint in 1985, the Wisconsin's Attorney General at the time, Bronson LaFollette, issued a formal opinion in May, 1986, ending an unconstitutional practice by former football coach David McClain of telling players to kneel, and leading them in pre-game prayers.
"Now we apparently have a football team chaplain, surreptitiously anointed," Gaylor said. The Foundation has requested information from the University's accounting department, yet to be answered as of publication time, including:
The Foundation has asked University of Wisconsin Chancellor David Ward for an investigation, and to sever the inappropriate arrangement.
Wisconsin Director of Athletics Pat Richter, on January 27, issued a "clariÞcation on Burke's role." Although his Department had identiÞed Burke as the Badger chaplain in a phone inquiry from Freethought Today on January 25, in this release Richter wrote:
"Burke's role with the football players and staff is that of supporter and friend. Under no circumstances can his relationship be characterized as a 'chaplain for the team.' "
Richter revealed that the priest "has volunteered to be available for personal guidance and counseling for the past 17 years."
He added: "At the request of the last Þve head football coaches at the UW, Burke has accompanied the Wisconsin football team on road trips." He said the priest's expenses are covered by the Mendota Gridiron Club, which he described as "the school's football fundraising organization."
To other media, Richter pledged that "Burke will continue to be invited to be part of the football program in his informal role as counselor and supporter."
No figures or documentation of the UW's claims were available at press-time.
"Prayers were unheard of at sporting events in Wisconsin until the last couple decades. It seems incredible that a secular University would countenance them in any form, but especially ludicrous in connection with football games!" Gaylor said.
An inkling of the caliber of Burke's "counseling" to football players may be gleaned from a report of his prayers by the Wisconsin State Journal on January 23. Pat Simms reported that Burke was invited to pray at a recent fundraising birthday party for Republican Congressman Scott Klug, and intoned: "God, you said to ask You if we ever need anything. Help all of us to re-elect Scott Klug to Congress. Amen."