Judge gives Texas cheerleaders a W-I-N for free speech
Religious Liberty | Whitney Williams
After nearly eight months on defense, cheerleaders at a Southeast Texas high school can get back to pumping up their football team—and if they want to use a Bible versed on a banner to do it, they have every right.
State District Judge Steve Thomas ruled Wednesday that the Kountze High School cheerleaders’ banners are constitutionally permissible, declaring that no law “prohibits cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events.”
The dispute began during the last football season when the district received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the cheerleaders’ use of encouraging scripture on some of their run-through banners.
The complaint argued that the banners—with verses like “If God is for us, who can be against us?”—violated a First Amendment clause that bars government, or in this case, publicly funded school districts, from establishing or endorsing a religion.
Instead of fighting for its students’ rights to free speech, the district chose to ban the cheerleaders from using Scripture-themed banners.
But the cheerleaders, seemingly in a losing game, chose to fight the decision.
The Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm based in Plano, Texas, represented the squad, arguing the school district’s ban violated the girls' free speech rights.
"This is a great victory for the cheerleaders and now they're going to be able to have their banners," said Hiram Sasser, a lead attorney for the institute.
Thomas Brandt, the school district's attorney, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
In October, Brandt temporarily allowed the cheerleaders to continue displaying the banners pending the lawsuit's outcome. At the time, he said the school district's ban on the practice appeared to violate the students' free speech rights. The Liberty Institute had argued the banners' messages were not asking anyone to believe in Christianity or accept the faith.
Various state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, cheered on the girls during their fight—Perry and Abbott even filed court papers seeking to intervene on the cheerleaders’ behalf. A Facebook group created after the ban, Support Kountze Kids Faith, gained more than 45,000 members.
The school district could still appeal the ruling.
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