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…in where else but Mississippi?
Did you even know there is a Christian flag?  Anyone from Mississippi knows this because growing up Baptist we saw it marched into the sanctuary on special occasions. It’s even got its own pledge.

I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands; one brotherhood, uniting all mankind in service and in love.

Accustomed as I am to seeing it in church, I’m not so familiar with seeing it marched out onto the field at a public high school football game.
This past Friday night, Tishomingo County‘s high school football team carried the flag out onto the field in a dramatic display of ignorance of the Establishment Clause, which many Mississippians believe only favors Christianity (Link to their Facebook post here). EDIT: They appear to have taken it down.
I am sure the locals are very proud of their team’s display, but I am also fairly sure that as uniformed players on a public high school team, this kind of careless disregard for anyone who doesn’t belong to their religion isn’t okay, either socially or legally.  The coaches can play dumb if they like (“Hey, this was all them, I didn’t put them up to it”) but once they suit up and go out onto the field like this during a school sanctioned game, I’m pretty sure the rules become a good bit stricter.

Par for the Course

This is becoming a recurring theme among Mississippi public high schools.  Clearly worried that they are losing privilege in the surrounding culture, Christians in my area are feeling the need to become increasingly more demonstrative in public spaces just to remind everyone that their brand of religion is still the most popular one in town.
My school district, which is determined to become famous for its flagrant disregard for the separation of church and state, waited until the night before the first game of the season to announce that the local band could not in fact perform their rendition of the Christian hymn “How Great Thou Art” during halftime, especially once they had learned that the band was at one point going to form into a cross formation and then end the number with the band on one knee, heads bowed in reverence.  This, they said, had nothing to do with religion.  But they didn’t want to get sued by the American Humanist Association, who has already taken them to task over multiple previous demonstrations of religious hegemony.
[Read “My School System Really Doesn’t Get What the Establishment Clause Means.”]
The locals were furious, of course, and since that time several weeks ago a large number of vehicles in my area have sported white shoe polish on their windows spelling out “How Great Thou Art.”  Soon it began to appear on shirts, hats, and auto decals which you can pick up at a number of area retail outlets.
Where I live, this is normal.
Except then again it’s not.  It’s normal for now, but it didn’t used to be this way.  I don’t remember people feeling the need to be as demonstrative about their religious affiliation as they are now. Something has changed.  There’s an ostentatiousness now, a beaming pride that belies a nervousness that something has shifted for them in the public square.

Religious Liberty Isn’t Just About You

Years ago, the Christian religion enjoyed unfettered privilege in government and in society in general.  During the Cold War, political and religious forces began to get in bed with each other to unite against their common enemy:  the Soviets.  The Red Scare and the McCarthy era made it possible for the American government to wrap itself so tightly with religion that our national legislators even decided in the mid-1950’s to add the words “In God We Trust” to our money and to the Pledge of Allegiance.
But times are changing. At least they are in some places, even if not so much in Mississippi.  People around here are sensing that the end of an era has come and their identity may not long enjoy the privileges it once enjoyed. This, they feel, is an affront to their deity, and they won’t stand for it.  But it doesn’t really matter how many flags they trot out or how many decals and shirts they put on themselves and their pickup trucks.  It’s time to come to grips with the religious pluralism that’s woven into the fabric of our national constitution.
These kinds of displays on the field during public high school games are more often than not illegal, and they are making you look not just a little bit desperate to assert your superiority.  I seriously doubt this is what Jesus meant when he said you should “take up your cross and follow me.”
[Image Source: WCBI]

Neil Carter is a high school teacher, a father of four, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil now writes mostly about the struggles of former evangelicals...

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