Christians concerned about possible restrictions on free speech rights received good news this week from an unusual Supreme Court case.
A Pennsylvania high school student failed to make the varsity cheerleading squad and was placed on the junior varsity squad instead. Coupled with her frustration at not getting the position she wanted on a private softball team, the cheerleading snub led her to lash out on social media. She went on a profanity-laced tirade on Snapchat, saying “F*** cheerleading” and used the same curse word to decry several other activities.
Several cheerleaders took screenshots of the post and a subsequent one that expressed her anger over a younger girl making the varsity squad. Someone showed the posts to the cheerleading coach, and the school administration decided to suspend her from cheerleading for one year.
In an 8-1 decision, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court sided with the cheerleader and decided that the school violated the student’s first amendment rights because the speech took place off campus.
This may seem like a strange case for Christians to find encouragement in, but amid our current frustration with cancel culture and increasing challenges to free speech rights, there is a lot for us to celebrate in Justice Breyer’s opinion in Mahanoy Area School District v B.L.
In one section of the opinion, Breyer asserted that schools have an interest in protecting unpopular ideas because schools are “a nursery of democracy.” Breyer added, “Our representative democracy only works if we protect the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ This free exchange facilitates an informed public opinion, which, when transmitted to lawmakers, helps produce laws that reflect the People’s will. That protection must include the protection of unpopular ideas, for popular ideas have less need for protection.”
This paragraph alone ought to make every American Christian stand up and cheer. There is no more unpopular idea in American culture at the current moment than the Christian view of sex and gender. Breyer said that the first amendment must protect unpopular ideas because popular ideas don’t need protecting. In American culture, the idea that homosexuality should be celebrated needs no protection. It seems as if every brand in America has changed its logo for Pride Month. However, the idea that the only acceptable outlet for sexual expression is a marriage between a man and a woman needs to be protected. Many in our culture find the idea, which is plain and evident in the pages of Scripture, to be harmful, hateful, dangerous, and outdated.
This case, coupled with other Supreme Court decisions, offers hope for Christians in the marketplace of ideas. Take the case of Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop. While the Court did not rule on the broader first amendment issues, they did find that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was unnecessarily hostile towards Mr. Phillips because of his religious beliefs. The case brought against him by transgender lawyer Autumn Scardina for refusing to bake a gender transition cake seems even more hostile towards him. Hopefully, it can win a hearing before Roberts’ Court.
As Christians receive the free speech protections we are guaranteed in the Constitution, we must be willing to extend those same rights to others. In the current furor over Critical Race Theory, many states are moving to ban it from being taught in schools. A proposed law in Pennsylvania would prevent all schools, including universities, from even assigning readings in critical race theory. This would include those assigned so that students can study CRT in order to understand and critique it.
Let’s set the fact that most people who are angry about Critical Race Theory couldn’t offer a clear definition of it. (Too many are using it as an umbrella term to cover CRT, anti-racism, and the historical view of the 1619 Project.) If state legislatures can ban teaching about Critical Race Theory in schools, then they can come along later and ban teaching about the role that Christianity played in the founding of the United States. We must be careful in our crusades, which are too often inflamed by cable news rather than reason, not to open Pandora’s box, which could come back to harm us.
Christians often have a defeatist mentality when we look at the future of Christianity in America. We envision a future in which Christianity is illegal, and Christians have no free speech rights. While there are concerning trends and while genuine Christianity is becoming a minority movement in the United States, recent court cases provide evidence that our free speech rights are safe for now. We must continue to be vigilant, encouraging our best and brightest to study law and tell our Legislators to put judges on the bench who will protect the First Amendment.
Above all, we must not fear. God protects his people, and currently, so does the Supreme Court when the First Amendment is on trial.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brian PIrwin
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”