AUSTIN (October 18, 2012)—Texas State District Judge Steve Thomas said Thursday a Kountze Independent School District policy that bars cheerleaders from quoting biblical scripture on banners at high school football games appears to violate the cheerleaders’ free speech rights.
Thomas issued an injunction Thursday allowing the Kountze High School cheerleaders to continue to display such banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit about the matter.
He previously granted a temporary restraining order allowing the practice to continue.
The school district ordered the cheerleaders to stop quoting Bible verses after receiving a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which said it received a complaint from an atheist attending a game who felt the school was promoting Christianity.
The atheist group argued that using banners with phrases such as, "I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me," violates the First Amendment rule against the government establishing a religion.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott applauded the ruling Thursday.
"Today’s decision is an important victory for the cheerleaders’ freedom of religion. The Constitution has never demanded that students check their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door," he said.
"We will not allow groups or individuals to wage a war on religion by trying to intimidate students into embracing a secular mindset," he said.
On Wednesday Abbott said he will defend the cheerleaders and is intervening in the lawsuit the cheerleaders filed against the school district.
Abbott said that because the cheerleaders create the banners without school funding, they qualify as free speech and should not be banned.
"After receiving a menacing letter from an organization with a reputation for bullying school districts, the Kountze ISD improperly prohibited high school cheerleaders from including religious messages on their game day banners,” Abbott said Wednesday.
“Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional,’ he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry applauded Abbott’s intervention, saying, “As government leaders, we owe it to people of all religions to protect expressions of faith, to ensure everyone has the right to voice their opinions and worship as they see fit.”