Schools should promote religious tolerance

Schools+should+promote+religious+tolerance

Brittany Cornelison

photo illustration by Jake Alden
Let me start off by saying, freedom of religious expression has been a debated topic in America for quite some time through arguments over actions justified by the first amendment of the Constitution. The government can’t seem to decide whether they want their people to have the freedom to practice religion how they please, or, if it is best to keep religion private in order to avoid conflicting views.
However, 15 of the cheerleaders and their parents bravely took a stand in Texas against oppression. They sued the Kountze Independent School District and superintendent Kevin Weldon because they considered their rights to be violated.
In my opinion, it’s simple. Just read the first amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
I think it’s pretty clearly stated; the government must respect and tolerate all religions whether they agree with their viewpoints or not. It is not the job of the government to control our religious views. However, it’s cases like this one in Texas that cause questioning of  how true our government is holding to this Constitutional amendment.
According to nytimes.com, Kountze, Texas is a small, largely conservative Christian town with a population of about 2,100. It seems odd that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (which was founded in Wisconsin) would pursue such a seemingly unimportant town such as this. The purpose of FFRF is to promote the separation of church and state, but if the majority of Kountze believes the same thing shouldn’t they be allowed to proclaim it?
The messages on these targeted banners weren’t meant to be at all harmful; from my viewpoint I think they were a way of encouraging and supporting the football players. One of the signs reads the verse Hebrews 12:1, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” For me, being a Christian, it is motivating to hear these constant reminders that God is always with us. I know people of different religions may not see eye to eyewith me, and I do see the argument that if you weren’t Christian this banner wouldn’t be of much importance to you. But I don’t see how it would be offensive unless it blatantly disgraced other religions.
The banners aren’t hurting anyone, they aren’t disturbing the peace, and they are just simple a way for cheerleaders to incorporate their religious views with their love for cheer. The girls are using their own money to buy the supplies for the banners and are using time outside of school to create them. The cheerleaders are simply expressing their creativity, not trying to convince onlookers to convert.
Rebekah Richardson, an 11th grade cheerleader on the squad appeared in court on Oct. 4, 2012. She stated to The New York Times that people of different faiths “can be offended, because that’s their right. But so far there hasn’t been any opposition to what we’re doing. Nothing but support.” The only negative response has come from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the school district officials who are trying to avoid a separation of church and state lawsuit.
The school board should be proud of their students for standing up for themselves as they have. Cheerleaders of this small town school didn’t let opposition stand in their way. They knew what was right, and they are doing all they can to enforce it.
Here at RBHS, however, I think we have a great sense of religious tolerance. Posters line our hallways promoting groups such as, “The Light Bible Club”, “Muslim Student Union” and “Fellowship of Christian Athletes”. Though these are not school-sponsored groups, they are allowed to meet in the school and are open to anyone. Students are able to speak freely about their religions without having their faith or speech restricted.
When students are allowed to express themselves unchallenged by laws or regulations, I feel like they are more willing to be at school. Schools should allow students to express themselves religiously, artistically and vocally to allow kids to portray their individuality.
I commend the cheerleaders of Kountze, Texas greatly for their firm standing in their cause. I wish all students, as well as myself, were as driven as these select few students. It shows character.
As a school, however, it is very difficult to sensor the verbal hatred where the issue of separation of church and state is considered. We can establish groups to make those of other religions feel more accepted in a secular school, but I think it’s extremely difficult to prevent these groups from being hated on.
For example, RBHS’s “Gay-Straight Alliance” has become a popular club with mud-slinging from the student body. I’ve noticed students who tear down promotion posters and make fun of the club every time they pass by the advertisements in the hallways. As a school we’ve done a great job at accepting all views acquired by our students, but we need to start standing up more firmly for their causes.
I’m not saying I’m an advocate of gay marriage, but I do think that it is our right as Americans to have the freedom to believe as we choose. The students at RBHS need to stand up behind those proclaiming their beliefs and be proud of them for standing up against great opposition, even if they themselves are the opposition. We, as a school, need to make it our goal to insure that every individual who steps onto our grounds feels welcome and appreciated. The mud-slinging must stop, and pride should be more evident in the individuality of students here.
By Brittany Cornelison
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