(Photo: Courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation)
Republican Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have voiced their support for a group of high school cheerleaders in Texas who are currently involved in a lawsuit over painting Bible verses on banners prior to school football games. A judge had previously ruled the religious banners were constitutional after the school initially banned them, and the case is currently before the Ninth District Court of Appeals.
Cruz and Cornyn submitted a joint amicus brief in the court case Kountze Independent School District v. Cotti Matthews last week. The court case is between the Kountze Independent School District and parents of students at Kountze High School in East Texas.
Last year, the school district ordered cheerleaders at the high school to stop painting Bible passages on large paper banners, which football players would run through at the start of each football game. The school district had banned the banners after receiving a threatening letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and parents filed a lawsuit against the district arguing that because the banners were created by the cheerleaders, they were not endorsed by the public school and therefore were not in violation of the Establishment Clause.
In May, a judge ruled that it was constitutionally permissible for the cheerleaders to display their banners at the school football games. The Kountze Independent School District then announced that it would be appealing the judge's decision, saying it would like to clarify certain matters regarding the previous ruling in the lower court.
In a statement, Rep. Cornyn said that he is proud of the Texan parents and students who are willing to fight for their First Amendment rights to religious freedom. "Through the First Amendment, our Founding Fathers sought to ensure that all Americans would enjoy the freedom to express their religious beliefs," Cornyn said. "I'm proud to fight for Texans to protect these important rights."
Cruz added: "The First Amendment protects the religious liberty of every American. I'm proud to side with the cheerleaders standing up for free expression of religion and the Bill of Rights."
The two senators noted in their joint amicus brief that "the messages written on the banners and displayed at the football games were the cheerleaders' words, not the school's."
"The idea for the religious messages came from the cheerleaders, not the school. Although the messages were displayed at a school function and with the permission of school administrators, the messages were neither controlled nor coerced by the school. Thus the 'government speech' doctrine is inapplicable."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has also offered his support to the cheerleaders involved in the court case, saying in a letter to the Kountze Independent School District that their banning of the banners was "erroneous" and that "the Supreme Court has never ruled that religion must be 'kept out' of public schools."