Bible Banners in Texas and My Hero Kevin WeldonPosted by Jim Newman on October 22nd, 2012 – Comments Off – Posted in Church and State, politics
Post by Jim Newman
The NY Times reports on an odd situation in Texas—boy that’ll stand out: A Christian man has stepped forward for separation of church and state and enforced the removal of religious bible banners from sports events. Apparently, Kevin Weldon, is damned, now, like the rest of us. I think god, if there is one, would understand Weldon. Thank you Kevin Weldon. Rick Perry, no doubt, will swoop down and save the day against these sweet cheerleaders. I don’t mind, for the sake of freedom and freindship, the heart-felt sentiments my religious friends give me but I don’t want sports games to be religious games
“In a barrage of recent e-mails, telephone calls and letters to his office, Kevin Weldon has been called some of the worst things a Christian man in this predominantly Christian town can be called: un-Christian, and even anti-Christian.
So what about the rest of the town? I always wonder when I read “predominantly” what about everyone else? How does a town thrive when a chunk of its people are damned? They always say a group can be spoiled by a few and then we read about oppression of minorities by a majority and you gotta wonder, when is it class warfare and when is it righteous ostracism if that’s even possible. Too often free expression is used to promote oppression.
“I’ve been in this business a long, long time,” said Mr. Weldon, the superintendent of the 1,300-student school district in Kountze, northeast of Houston. “People that know me know how I am. Even though I got those things, I’m going to be honest with you, this may sound very flippant, but it just went in one ear and out the other.”
In one ear and out the other seems right for Texas culture though in this case for good reason. But for myself I wonder how I can do that? Shit, I have to, to, to do whatever to get the ringing out of my head—that angry noise of a mob wishing I were otherwise. Empathy is a curse. It makes you able to feel and experience as others do but then you can’t lose it. It’s like watching a horror movie and dreaming about it, unable to clear the clutter and say it’s time for something else. As an atheist I need to be stronger than I want.
“Mr. Weldon, 53, is in a position that few superintendents in small-town Texas have found themselves: taking a stand on religious expression that has put him at odds with the majority of his students and his neighbors, not to mention the governor, the attorney general and, some in Kountze believe, his God.
Used to be a politician was an educated individual that balanced the needs of their community with laws and culture. Politicians have long lived in the Bermuda Triangle of voter support, legal viability, and personal conscience. Hell any sheriff of any town can confess the difficulty of upholding the law, promoting neighbors as individuals, and not taking bribes or threats.
“After consulting with lawyers, Mr. Weldon banned the district’s cheerleaders from putting Bible verses on the banners they hoist at the beginning of football games, out of concern that the signs were unlawful and amounted to school-sanctioned religious expression. A group of cheerleaders and their parents sued Mr. Weldon and the district, prompting a legal battle that has outraged and inspired Christians across the country. Last week, a judge issued a temporary injunction, barring the district from prohibiting the banners for the rest of the football season while the case proceeds to trial.
At least Weldon consulted with lawyers instead of insisting he knew it already, or as we will see considered the human interpreted law of the bible above the human interpreted law of the land. I guess it’s not time to belabor the bible as not being very consistent but it certainly nowhere affirms the waving of bible banners for god’s support in a friendly game against one’s neighbors.
“Mr. Weldon, a Protestant and former football coach, has said he supports the cheerleaders and their message, but feels he must uphold the law. Though he has taken a stand that pleases the Anti-Defamation League and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, he is not their ally. Though his action upset the Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group representing the cheerleaders, he is not their opponent. He is caught somewhere in between.
So, he is not doing it because he believes he should but rather because he must because it is the law, apparently one not worth his own conscientious civil disobedience. In this sense Weldon is an outsider. He cares more about the school than parents’ concern for illegal religious expression being legitimized.
“He made the decision against the popular prevailing sentiment, and he’s been reviled for it,” Mr. Weldon’s lawyer, Thomas P. Brandt, told the judge last week. “He has stood, though, solidly in favor of not what he personally wants, but what he perceives the law requires.”
I hazard a guess that it is the best spot for one wanting to remain within the folds of the community and not be cast out as a satan lover. It’s the law. Don’t like it, change the law. It’s not him it’s the law. One wonders whether when at home with his wife he says he thinks separation of church and state is good or bad—just curious. Either way he’s doing the right thing. The law doesn’t usually consider intention pertinent.
“Mr. Weldon has had to defend his decision even as Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and scores of students, parents and others have criticized the district’s ban on the signs and registered their dismay and disgust in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The marquee outside the First Baptist Church quoted Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” Steve Stockman, a born-again Christian and former congressman running for re-election in the area, suggested that Mr. Weldon’s job was on the line.
I could write a book of the asinine sayings people put on the outside of churches. Weldon’s job is on the line. If he is right to report the infraction then he is saving the community from a huge lawsuit. If he is wrong then the community should make it clear they seek a lawsuit and are willing to pay for it.
“Banning religion is a direct assault on our founding principles,” Mr. Stockman said in a statement. “This is East Texas, not San Francisco. The superintendent can either overturn his ban on religion, or pack his bags.”
San Francisco? That allegation, or should I say analogy, is usually remarked when it is a sexual or gender identity issue. I guess he just meant “far away, liberal place”. Otherwise it could have been New Jersey.
“Not everyone has been so harsh. Rebekah Richardson, 17, a Kountze High School cheerleader, said: “We understand that he’s in a hard situation.”
“Mr. Weldon said that over all, people in Kountze have treated him respectfully. He has attended the football games without incident, watching the Kountze Lions burst through the very banners (“But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” one read) at issue in the lawsuit. “It’s a great small town, and they’re just standing up for what they truly believe in,” he said. “You can’t fault people for that.”
I never know what to say in the face of people who praise those who are just standing up for what they truly believe in. It’s like the trump card in religious arguments—I just believe it’s true with all of my heart. Great, lets stop talking and stand up and testify what we feel is true—One Cat, One Vote, and One Beer—and forget trying to work through the problem.
Everyone, nearly everyone, is standing up for what they believe in. Unless clinically sociopathic or psychopathic everyone uses their minds, their hearts, and their sociability to make decisions. It’s not like those that don’t stand up don’t give a shit–they’re just too tired, depressed, or beat down to give a verbal damn. I do fault people for good intentions and poor actions. I fault those that accept poor behavior because of so called good intentions. This isn’t a social tea party. These are issues where we must pay attention and if we cannot we throw away the core of democracy. I can praise strength of conviction but it is not the goal.
If the parents consider the display of religious banners at sports games sufficiently important to rebel against the obvious spirit of separation of church and state and wish to make personal theology supreme, I can only appeal to the law and why it is a good one. But saying they can’t be faulted is facile in the face of the argument. It’s like stopping in the middle of the debate and saying “damn, I admire you because you showed up today.” No one doubts the sincerity of either party.
“In a heavily wooded part of the state called the Big Thicket, Kountze is an old-fashioned town of 2,100 with a history of religious tolerance. In the early 1990s, residents elected their first black mayor, Charles Bilal, a Muslim. The majority white, Christian voters made Mr. Bilal the first Muslim mayor in the United States. His granddaughter, Nahissaa Bilal, 17, a Christian, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
This is where I feel like I have dropped a hit of acid. Already tempered, this community is harboring regrets for its recent past and wishes to emphasis its Christian community?
“Mr. Weldon is a relative newcomer here, arriving last year to lead the district, which has only four schools. With his white-haired crew-cut and burly frame, he resembled not a former coach but a former linebacker, and though his critics claim he has cowered to blue-state liberals, his office décor seemed decidedly red, with the head of the biggest deer he ever shot while hunting mounted in a corner.
This explains it. He’s a newbie. He’s gotta live there 10 years and then he’s still just moved there. Used to be the South was more democratic as a political party. Remember LBJ and his Great Society, the civil rights era, and the reaction to LBJ. Remember, the gracious, social, and genteel elder female presence that allowed difference because it was right, which vaporized in the face of big oil, big business, and the paranoid fixation on personal morals as political choice towards salvation or not. The South protected their declining wealth, which once again, reared its ugly head as anger towards the North who were raping their culture and resources even if only blues, farm goods–bluesmen, teamsters and manpower as well. Banning Mexicans that actually wanted to stay, own a house, and get a living wage, but not be white—what were they thinking?
“The cheerleaders’ case centers on whether the banners amount to private speech protected by state and federal law, or government-sponsored speech that can be regulated and censored. Lawyers for the students argued that because the cheerleaders created the messages after school without guidance or financial assistance from administrators, their banners were private speech. District lawyers said the banners were in no way akin to someone waving a John 3:16 sign in the stands and could be regulated, because the cheerleaders were school representatives.
Aside from the legalities I have to wonder why invoke God? I suppose that’s better than displaying signs that say crush them or kill them or just maim them for an hour or two—just a couple of points. Sports are often compared to sublimated military events. The compassion here is to never use more force than necessary. We don’t obliterate a country. We don’t attack civilians. There are rules in war for good reason—destroying all resource strangles any people left and harming civilians ensures long hatred towards the victor regardless of the cause of war.
Praying for god to help you when you believe in god sincerely is a cosmic cheat. It’s like putting a burr under the saddle or cattle prodding the bronco before the gate opens. If you truly believe god is on your side and you can create a minor miracle by petitioning for his assistance then there is no game involved, no chance, no skill, no luck, not even Christian abeyance, as it is a reward for past observance. Why play the game? You know the most Christian side will win? The one which prays the hardest! Perhaps they should shun the world and do nothing but pray as the Jewish Hasidim do, trusting that god will act justly—performing whatever miracle is necessary, or not. If they want to promote their religion become a missionary and knock on doors.
Prayer was never to be about gaining favor with god. That it is used that way debases Christianity to common wishful thinking or wanting personal reward over another. Of course, as an atheist I would slam the religion just for that inherent inconsistency. But as a philosopher I observe that theological banners at sports events don’t seem to follow the spirit of Christianity. Should God really care whether your team wins or another? Are your neighbors greater sinners and need a bitch slap convoluted through a sports activity? Do you need a false motivation like an idol or false prophet to inspire you to better performance? Really?
“The case began last month, when the district received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics. The letter, written on behalf of an anonymous resident who had attended a game, called the cheerleaders’ banners unconstitutional. Mr. Weldon said he contacted lawyers for the district and for the Texas Association of School Boards. Both advised him to prohibit the signs. The advice stemmed from a Supreme Court ruling in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which established that prayers led by students at high school football games were unconstitutional.
I would be offended too. Hell, I am offended my Jr High School daughter’s science book never mentions the word evolution. I say whoever wins is indicative of whose god was the strongest–your god or my god, your bible or my bible. I can pretty well guarantee that polytheism shrank to monotheism because it is impossible to resolve the argument of whose god is strongest, who is the most godly, and politically the strongest position would be an insistence that there is only one god. Asking a god to choose sides in a sports event of a common theology is like asking god to have multiple allegiances or to assume god can determine who will be saved or not long before death—how then grace or personal salvation? Why bother to obey god if your fate is predetermined?
“Myself and the board have said all along that we do not have a problem with the kids doing what they’re doing,” Mr. Weldon said. “We’re not hostile against any type of religion, but we also want to make sure as a school district that we’re following the law.”
“In a state where courtroom battles over public expressions of Christianity are routine, the cheerleaders’ case has been unusual. In other disputes, local officials have been on the same side as state leaders, or they have taken neutral stands. In 2001, after Mr. Perry prompted criticism by bowing his head and saying “Amen” as a pastor led a prayer at an East Texas public school, the superintendent there tried to stay out of the issue. “I’m not going to question the governor,” the superintendent in Palestine, Jerry Mayo, told The Associated Press at the time.
“But in Kountze, Mr. Weldon has ended up aligned, albeit reluctantly, with the out-of-state atheist group that first complained about the banners. Many in town thought the two sides would settle the lawsuit. The negotiations stalled, and the case proceeded at the Hardin County Courthouse.
Weldon placed himself as an outlier. Just as in other cases where boards split over the issue, any noncomformist to local majority is anathema by definition.
“Mr. Weldon had to testify, answering questions about whether he harbored a hostility toward Christianity or the Bible. He said in court, under questioning by a lawyer for the cheerleaders, David Starnes, that his directive violated a school policy that allowed students to express their religious viewpoints at nongraduation events. And Mr. Weldon had to watch while his lawyer cross-examined two nervous students, one of whom was a 16-year-old cheerleader who cried on the stand.
“Afterward, Mr. Weldon sought out the two students. The defendant had a message for the plaintiffs. He told them he was proud of them.
For Weldon, it really seems like the strong desire to do what’s right regardless and not for reward or social pressure. In the spirit of Christianity, whatever that really is, I say as a religious outsider, he sounds the most Christian of all of them.
The right thing for the community would be to understand why this scripture is offensive to others including other Christians. And why seeking religious support in sports games invites everyone to appeal to their own god and to continue this absurd commotion of whose religious faith is strongest. It would be a joke if religion didn’t cause so many problems in the world. Snoopy says go team. Fred Flintstone loves the Bulls. Pokemon rules the Patriots. Meh. When Flintstone followers bomb Pokemon followers I will worry about those groups.
Jim Newman, bright and well