A Texas judge ruled Wednesday that it was constitutionally permissible for Kountze High School cheerleaders to display banners with Bible verses at school sporting events.
State District Judge Steve Thomas ruled that "neither the Establishment Clause nor any other law prohibits the cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events. Neither the Establishment Clause nor any other law requires Kountze I.S.D. to prohibit the inclusion of religious-themed banners at school sporting events."
In September 2012, the Kountze Independent School District (I.S.D.) told high school cheerleaders that they could no longer display banners at football games that displayed Bible verses in response to a complaint filed by an atheist group from Wisconsin, the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group argued that displaying phrases like, "If God is for us who can be against us? Romans 8:31" violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The parents sued the I.S.D. arguing that it was the girls' idea to use the Bible verses and they were not instructed to do so by any administrator at the public school. The parents stated on the "Support Kountze Kids Faith" Facebook page, a page with over 45,000 members, that displaying Bible verses "was all led by our children, and they made the decision to give the glory to God this year. We, as a community, will stand up for our kids and make sure they do not lose their voice and their rights in this. We have a group of parents who are not only outraged, but have decided to make a huge statement for our kids!"
After several legal rulings and an injunction, State District Judge Thomas ruled in the cheerleaders' favor. The Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has publicly supported the cheerleaders' ability to make banners with Bible verses for games. He told the Kountze Independent School District in a letter last September that making them stop the practice was "erroneous" and the Supreme Court has never "ruled that religion must be 'kept out' of public schools."
According to KFDM, the local CBS News affiliate in Beaumont, Texas, the Kountze I.S.D. school board is preparing to amend its policy, which could prohibit banners altogether. By stating that the banners are not part of the students' "limited public forum," the district could attempt to redefine whether or not the banners could qualify as free speech. Such changes would be considered at the next school board meeting this month.
If religious banners were denied altogether, that could result in another lawsuit – alleging the violation of the cheerleaders' rights to free speech.
Since the injunction last October, the cheerleaders have been allowed to display religious-themed banners at sporting events.
Despite Thomas' ruling, the lawsuit is scheduled for trial June 24.