Unite and Conquer

Cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas.

There are two major religions in Texas: Christianity and high school football. Fortunately for our governor-in-waiting, Attorney General Greg Abbott, a story out of East Texas this week gives him a chance to pander to people of both faiths.

Cheerleaders in the Kountze ISD, northeast of Houston, have been writing Christian slogans on the banners the football players burst through before their games on Friday nights. These are the banners usually adorned with catchy phrases like “Womp the Wampus Cats,” “Explode the Exporters,” “Hurt the Hippos,” or “Vanquish the Vandals.” Yes, those are all actual mascot names for Texas high schools. The cheerleaders in Kountze felt the need to add additional inspiration like Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” One player was quoted as saying “It means I’m playing for the Lord Jesus and my teammates.” And, no doubt, for the cheerleaders shakin’ their behinds in true Christian fashion.

Oh, to be lone liberal in a place like Kountze, Texas must be a miserable existence. It could drive a person to the kind of bitterness that makes you pick up the phone or write a letter to the folks at the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The group says it received complaints about the Christian banners and they’ve demanded a stop to the sideline evangelizing. The argument from the foundation is that the cheerleaders are official representatives of the school and have the kind of access to the football field during a game that other students don’t have. So, they’re able to push a message other students could not. The school district agreed, but a conservative group filed sued and a judge decided the banners are OK for now.

Attorney General Abbott says his office is ready to assist should the Kountze ISD need help versus Godless liberals. In a letter to the district Abbott wrote, in part:

Think about it: Can a school district or the Freedom From Religion Foundation stop a student from making the sign of the cross before taking a test, or stop football players from pointing toward heaven after scoring a touchdown or kneeling to pray for an injured teammate? Of course not. Just like the cheerleaders’ banners, such public displays of religion are voluntary expressions of the students’ beliefs and are not attributable to the school district.

Abbott, Gov. Perry, and GOP Senate Nominee Ted Cruz are united in this quest to slay secularism. Gov. Perry recently said on a conference call with Evangelicals that separation of church and state is the work of Satan.

As a Christian myself, I admit it’s difficult for me to get upset about Christian slogans on a football banner, regardless of whether they’re legal. My belief system says there’s room in God’s plan for either team to win the football game on Friday night. But, that’s just me.

It was suggested to me that an “Allahu Akbar” banner would result in a riot. No, it would not. The riots and anti-American violence blanketing much of the Mid East right now should remind us that back in this country we deal with our religious and political differences without shooting at each other. That’s a big part of why I like America. Even though we start some government meetings with prayers, our nation in no way resembles places like Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

My question isn’t “Why do Republicans like Perry and Abbott make these strong appeals to Evangelical Christians?” No. What I’d like to know is why I see so few Democrats doing anything similar. I’m asked all the time why Texas is so solidly Republican. I’m aware that there are scant resources for the Texas Democratic Party, but values aren’t in short supply if party leaders want to articulate them and stop ceding that people of faith are always going to largely side with the GOP.

Liberals, or progressives, constantly allow themselves to be the ones on the wrong side of these fights over how much religion should play a role in public discourse. Instead of engaging in a dialogue with the community about why anyone thinks God has a stake in the Kountze Lions versus the Hardin Hornets (Kountze won, by the way), liberals too often draw a line in the sand that puts almost else everyone on on the other side.

Liberals who win, like Bill Clinton, are the ones who embrace people of faith, not reject them.

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