Parkersburg South Wrestling Team Intimidated for Expressing Religious Freedom

Posted on April 21, 2014 in Religious Freedom by

Wrestling shirt

Photo Credit: The News Center

A controversy over wrestling shirts is brewing in Wood County, West Virginia, at Parkersburg South High School. Thanks to the dubious Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) lodging a complaint with the school Superintendent the wrestling team has been asked to stop wearing their shirts which display the Bible verse Philippians 4:13:

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation makes a practice of sending threatening letters to anyone expressing their religious freedom in the public sector. The group seeks to use bullying and scare tactics to intimidate silence on the part of Christians seeking to live out their faith.

Parkersburg South High School wrestling has a long-standing tradition of wearing t-shirts with the Bible verse on them. According to one article the team has been wearing the shirts since the 1990’s. Another article says the verse is even printed above the wrestling room door.

Critical to this story is the fact that the shirts are bought by parents and are optional for students to wear. In other words, no school funds are provided to purchase the shirts, and no one from the school is demanding wrestlers wear the shirts. Each family decides whether or not to purchase and wear the shirts.

The very definition of religious freedom is pictured above as parents and wrestlers take it upon themselves to buy and wear the shirts with the Bible verse one the back. They are expressing their religious views as citizens within the proper confines of the Constitutional freedoms guaranteed them and have every right to do so.

It would be one thing if the school was buying the shirts and demanding every player wear them. Such actions would be a violation of individual rights that we can all agree are improper. But that’s not what is happening here. The school is not giving any funds to buy the shirts and no one is forcing any player to wear the shirt against his will. This is an individual decision.

For the Freedom From Religion Foundation to come along and tell these students and their families that they cannot exercise their religious freedom by wearing these shirts is patently false, and absurdly wrong. The FFRF loves to intimidate by threatening to sue and has had a fair amount of success doing so. Ironically, when individuals and organizations that know their constitutional rights stand up to the FFRF, they either back down or lose in court. Their track record for winning in court is not all that impressive, not as impressive as an organization like Alliance Defending Freedom; a religious freedom legal group that regularly opposes the FFRF.

This isn’t the first time the FFRF has sought to intimidate students and faculty in West Virginia high schools.

In 2012 the FFRF sent a letter to Sissonville High School principal Ron Reedy and Superintendent Ron Duerring complaining over the prayers offered before Sissonville football games.  Sissonville High School had a tradition of pre-game prayers for the safety of their players and players from the opposing team. This long-standing tradition was part of the DNA of Sissonville high school football until one parent complained to the FFRF and the letter was sent.

The FFRF told Sissonville that public prayers are not constitutional and cited, in their letter, court cases supporting their position. But this is how the FFRF twists history and court precedent for their own purposes; often to unsuspecting schools and organizations. The FFRF intentionally left out the multitude of court cases showing that students can lead in prayers over loud speakers or otherwise at any and all school functions.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the right of students to express their religious convictions at school. Days like “See You at the Pole” and “The National Day of Prayer” confirm the court’s acknowledgement of this right. The FFRF doesn’t like to share that information because it hurts their cause. But these facts remain nonetheless students can indeed express their religious beliefs freely without government or school interference.

The FFRF is clearly in the wrong in this case. They have distorted the Constitution once again to aid their flawed ideology and sought to intimidate students and their families into silence. Thankfully one family is not willing to sit by silently as their rights are abused and taken away. They have hired a local lawyer to represent them in restoring their right to religious expression.

The one thing that allows the FFRF to continue scaring schools, organizations, and families is silence. If more people would be willing to stand up and tell the FFRF to get lost they would simply disappear. They don’t’ have history or the Constitution on their side and know they will lose in court.

I will continue following this story and bring the latest information as I am able. I hope others will take the initiative to contact Parkersburg South High School and let them we support the right of students to express their religious convictions.

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