(Photo: Courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation)
A judge has issued a temporary injunction allowing for a Texas high school cheerleading squad to display banners with Bible verses on them during football games.
District Judge Steve Thomas issued the injunction Thursday on behalf of the cheerleaders at Kountze High School, where officials had previously barred such banners in response to complaints from church-state watchdog groups.
"If the temporary injunction is not issued, the Defendants' unlawful policy prohibiting private religious expression will remain in effect and the Plaintiffs will be prohibited from exercising their constitutional and statutory rights at all football games and other school sporting events," wrote Thomas.
"The Plaintiffs wish to engage in religious expression at sporting events in the future, including the remaining football games; therefore, the harm to their constitutional and statutory rights is imminent."
Kevin Weldon, superintendent of the Kountze Independent School District, said in a statement that his district "works hard to foster an atmosphere that values the voices and opinions of all students, teachers and the community."
"We were pleased to have the opportunity to explain the district's position regarding this matter in court, recognizing that Kountze ISD must follow all applicable laws in its operations, even if this practice is at times in conflict with personal beliefs of administrators and board members," said Weldon.
"Judge Thomas has issued an order granting the Plaintiffs' application for temporary injunction. With this phase of the court case completed, the district will continue to focus on the important business of education, which must be our top priority."
Last month, the Kountze School District ordered cheerleaders to halt their display of banners at games that included Bible verses. Their decision came in response to a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"You must take immediate action to stop these religious banners from being part of school-sponsored events. It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor or lead religious messages at school athletic events," wrote Stephanie Schmitt of FFRF.
The judge's decision came not long after Texas Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott announced their support for the Kountze High School cheerleaders.
"We're a nation that's built on the concept of free expression of ideas," said Perry in a statement on Wednesday.
"We're also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments. If you think about it, the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call a little attention to their faith and to their Lord."
In response to Thursday's decision Abbott stated that this was a success for students who want to express their religious beliefs.
"The Constitution has never demanded that students check their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door," said Abbott. "Students' ability to express their religious views adds to the diversity of thought that has made this country so strong."
The injunction against the school district's barring of biblical banners will remain in effect for the duration of school year. The case will go to trial on June 24 of next year.