Now pending on Texas Attorney General Greg Abbotts desk is a request for an opinion on whether senior status federal judges can perform weddings in our state.
Its an interesting question, I guess, especially if youre among senior status federal judges who hear cases in lieu of retiring. But even more interesting is the unintended linkage the request provides to important questions about high school cheerleaders and God.
The opinion request is from Jefferson County District Attorney Tom Maness on behalf of U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield of Beaumont, a senior status jurist periodically asked to marry folks. And what happy couple wouldnt want to be married by a judge named Heartfield? (I do note, however, that there is a magistrate in that district named John D. Love.)
Heartfield is our link to God and cheerleading and Abbotts recent entry into a courthouse kerfuffle about the combination of those two powerful forces.
A few years back, Heartfield ruled against a Silsbee High School cheerleader forced from the squad for refusing to cheer for a basketball player who had assaulted her. The cheerleaders family sued the school district. Heartfield, in a decision upheld on appeal, tossed out the suit and ordered the family to pay the district $45,000.
His ruling was based on several points, including a conclusion that a cheerleader forfeits individual free speech rights while cheering. In this case, Heartfield said, the cheerleader had no right not to chant her assailants name as required for the squad when he attempted a free throw.
In September 2010, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, writing, In her capacity as cheerleader, (she) served as a mouthpiece through which (the school district) could disseminate speech namely, support for its athletic teams. Insofar as the First Amendment does not require schools to promote particular student speech, (the district) had no duty to promote (the cheerleaders) message by allowing her to cheer or not cheer, as she saw fit.
Im focused on the ruling that a cheering cheerleader is a mouthpiece for the school, as opposed to an individual student freely espousing personal views. Go team go is a legitimate public school sentiment, one in which a cheering cheerleader might or might not personally concur. Go God go is something else, something a public school should not promote through its mouthpieces.
So lets pivot to Abbotts involvement in a current cheerleading brouhaha (and would we be Texas if we didnt have a current cheerleading brouhaha?).
Abbott has sided with Kountze High School cheerleaders who put biblical references on their signs at football games. (Example: I can do all things through Christ which strengthens.) The practice brought protests from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a school decision to ban the biblical references, a decision later reversed in court in a battle sure to continue.
Herman: Cheering for God and the First Amendment