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Football team's faith under attack - Jason Smith

Every now and then, I hear a story on the news that just makes me throw my hands up in frustration.

One of the ways in which this happens most often revolves around the establishment of religion. I saw a report on TV the other day that dealt with this. The story wasn't about the concept of prayer in public schools, but it did involve a sports team at a high school in north Georgia.

According to an Oct. 2 report from the Associated Press (AP), the football team at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School has a regular practice of displaying Bible verses on banners at every game.

The team started doing this just after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but was recently forced by the school board in that area to stop doing so.

Someone reading this may ask why such an action was taken. Was it because the football games featured sermons by a preacher at half-time? Were Christian tracts folded into the programs in the stands?

No, neither of those things happened. As the AP's Dorie Turner wrote, the school board enacted their measure due to concerns about the banners possibly provoking a lawsuit on constitutional grounds.

The Constitution of the United States, as many of us know, addresses the concept of religion.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits federal lawmakers from promoting one religion over all others. The exact wording is, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion ..."

For some reason, it seems many in society have forgotten the last half of that sentence - the part after those three dots, which says "... or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But, I'll get to that shortly.

First, I want to address the "Congress shall make no law" portion of the clause, and apply it to the situation with the football team. The problem is, I'm not sure it does apply at all.

It sounds obvious enough, but the football team is not Congress. The team has made no attempt to create any sort of law for the state or the country, as it relates to the Christian faith held by its members. They simply put Bible verses on banners, and are no longer allowed to do so.

Granted, fans in the stands are still able to display their own verses and religious symbols, if they wish. But the prospect of being sued by an angry parent, who doesn't agree with the team doing the same, is apparently too much for the school board to bear.

As far as "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion, it seems to me that's just what the school board is doing in this case.

All things being fair, I know Congress has not stepped in and made a law preventing the team from doing anything.

But the governing body overseeing the school has effectively prohibited the free exercise of those students' faith at their games, in the name of avoiding a lawsuit which hasn't even manifested.

They have taken away the team members' collective ability to express their faith in a visible way, in order to escape an unseen enemy.

In football terms, the school board members punted the ball to the other end of the field on first down, without even knowing if anyone was there.

I'd hate to see what they would do, and how far they would be willing to bend, if and when, someone is there.

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.