Texas cheerleaders fight ban on biblical banners at football games

Texas cheerleaders expect a court ruling today on their battle against a school district ban on their display of biblical verses at high school football games. At issue: do the signs constitute individual free speech or do they look like they're sponsored by the public school district?

AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Randy Edwards
Cheerleaders of Kountze Middle School use their faith-based signs at the middle school football game held at Kountze High School Sept. 20, 2012 in Kountze, Texas.

A group of teenage cheerleaders is expecting to hear today from a Texas district judge whether they will be allowed to continue displaying Bible verses at high school football games.

The cheerleaders at Kountze High School, in Kountze, Tx. about 90 miles northeast of Houston, sued district officials who told them to stop using scripture — such as, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" – on banners displayed at football games. The district banned the use of religious messages after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained that the messages violated the First Amendment prohibition on government establishing a religion.

State District Judge Steve Thomas issued an injunction allowing the cheerleaders to continue using Bible verses until he made a decision. He set a hearing for Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, when he is expected to rule on the cheerleaders' case.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed court papers to intervene in the lawsuit, calling the district's prohibition an unconstitutional infringement on the cheerleaders' rights to free speech. The Texas Education Code also states that schools must respect the rights of students to express their religious beliefs.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is dedicated to the separation of church and state, also intervened saying in the context of a football game it was unclear who was responsible for the messages, the school or the cheerleaders.

"The speech in question is government speech or, at a minimum, school-sponsored speech," the group said in court papers. "If the majority of the cheerleaders were atheists, would a court support their 'right' to hold up a banner insulting Christianity or all believers? The district has every right to simply prohibit all run-through and on-field banners."

Gov. Rick Perry also has spoken out in favor of the cheerleaders.

"Anyone who is expressing their faith should be celebrated, from my perspective, in this day and age of instant gratification, this me-first culture that we see all too often," Perry said yesterday. "We're a nation built on the concept of free expression of ideas. We're also a culture built on the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments."

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