Is there a conflict between freedom of speech and freedom of religion? I don’t think there is, but I think the courts may have screwed things up to the point where people are forgetting something about the nature of free speech.
A recent example involves a group of high school cheerleaders in Florida who were banned from displaying signs with Bible verses:

Community members are rallying around Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School cheerleaders after they were banned from displaying signs with Bible verses urging fans and players to “commit to the Lord” and “take courage and do it.”
The banners — the paper ones that football players crash through at the beginning of games — have been common sights in the school’s football stadium since 2003, local officials say.
“The cheerleaders are not trying to push a religious cause, to shove religion down someone’s throat,” said local youth minister Brad Scott, who was LFO High’s class president in 2004. “The cheerleaders are just using Scripture to show motivation and inspiration to the players and the fans.”
Catoosa County Schools spokeswoman Marissa Brower said a Fort Oglethorpe resident lodged a verbal complaint to Superintendent Denia Reese last week, saying that the display of a Bible verse on the football field is a violation of federal law.
9/18/09 At a football game on the school’s field, cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School hold up a sign with a Biblical verse on it. After a complaint last week, the school has banned the cheerleaders from using any more signs with religious statements on them, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution.
A school system statement released Monday said the message constitutes “a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution for signs with Bible verses to be displayed on the football field.”

Is it a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution for signs with Bible verses to be displayed on the football field?
I realize the courts have said it is, but should it be?
It has long seemed clear to me that religious speech is free speech, and ought not to be treated any differently from any other form of free speech.
Here’s the sign that appeared in the article:
pressonJesus.jpg
Whether you like the sign or not, why isn’t it free speech?
As the town’s mayor says, no one has to go to the football stadium, and no one has to read the signs:

Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb vehemently disagrees with the ban and said he’ll call on the City Council to support the cheerleaders and their signs.
The signs don’t infringe on anyone’s religious rights and are good for school spirit, he said.
“I’m totally against them doing away with it,” Mr. Cobb said, adding that the cheerleaders’ rights are being abused.
The mayor said football coach John Allen made the signs a tradition around 2003 and it has continued ever since.
“If it’s offensive to anyone, let them go watch another football game,” he said. “Nobody’s forced to come there and nobody’s forced to read the signs.”

The ban on religious speech at schools and other government property stems from a belief that what the state allows, it endorses. But suppose the cheerleaders held up a banner saying “STOP THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN!” or “SUPPORT PRESIDENT OBAMA!” Would anyone argue that the school was endorsing that message? Or implicitly encouraging the students to endorse it?
Let’s suppose we change the sign around slightly. Would people be offended if the cheerleaders held up this sign?
pressonObama.jpg
Hmmm…..
I’m thinking they might. I’m thinking that the same people who want religious signs displayed would be against the display of religious signs with a political message, or outright political signs. But why? If there’s free speech, then there’s free speech, right? I’m for free speech, and I’d like all speech to be treated equally.
What am I missing?
Might the ban on religious speech have unwittingly led to religious speech being poised to occupy a special category above and beyond that of ordinary free speech? Is that it? Do the cheerleaders and their supporters want special treatment that would not obtain for other forms of free speech?
Should they get it? If so, under what First Amendment theory?
I realize that religious speech has been denied the same protection offered to other forms of speech, and I think that is wrong. But two wrongs don’t make a right. And just as I am against affirmative action to remedy past racial discrimination, I am against offering special protection for religious speech by way of compensation for past wrongs.
MORE: From an AFA PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (October 1, 2009)AFA urges Georgia school district to protect student expression on football banners
Does that mean the AFA agrees with the First Amendment?