A district judge has ruled that a Texas school district cannot prevent cheerleaders from using banners containing Biblical verses.
State District Judge Steven Thomas ruled Thursday that the Kountze Independent School District’s decision to prohibit the use of the banners during football games appeared to violate the students’ First Amendment rights. The cheerleaders will be allowed to display the banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the school district.
The case is set for trial on June 24, 2013.
The school district prohibited the banners after being contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of a local resident. The cheerleaders had been painting Bible verses on giant paper banners, which the football players ran through at the beginning of the game.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation told the school that the banners constituted an “unconstitutional government endorsement of religion,” noting that a reasonable Kountze student would see the banners as being supported by the school.
Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the cheerleaders. On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s intervened in court on behalf of the cheerleaders as well.
“Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional,” Abbott said. “The State of Texas intervened in this case to defend the cheerleaders’ right to exercise their personal religious beliefs — and to defend the constitutionality of a state law that protects religious liberties for all Texans.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is not a party in the lawsuit, is now seeking students or parents with children in the school district who wish to file a separate federal lawsuit over the religious banners.
“Since the state’s top law enforcer, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and its highest executive officer, Gov. Rick Perry, have openly expressed contempt for atheists and the Establishment Clause, this leads to a climate of intolerance. It takes courage to face down the full apparatus of state government, but we need those brave few to contact FFRF,” said Dan Barker, the group’s co-president.
[Cheerleaders via Shutterstock]