Texas School District Files Appeal on Cheerleader Bible Banners Case

A Texas public school district which recently lost a suit over their barring of religiously themed banners at sports events has opted to appeal the decision.

Kountze Independent School District filed an appeal Tuesday to the Ninth Texas Court of Appeals in Beaumont to clarify certain matters pertaining to the lower court decision.

Justin Butterfield, attorney at the Liberty Institute, told The Christian Post that he was opposed to what the school district was doing.

"It's unfortunate that the school district keeps spending taxpayer money fighting against the free speech rights of the cheerleaders," said Butterfield. "These cheerleaders … simply want to encourage the football team players with uplifting messages."

"I think the evidence is very strong that the message was just the cheerleaders' private message. The government wasn't responsible for the messages. There was no establishment clause violation."

Last year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the superintendent of Kountze ISD stating that the district's high school cheerleaders were in violation of the separation of church and state over using banners with Bible verses on them during football games.

Many of the "Bible banners" included verses of encouragement and were "run through" banners which the football team charged through on their way to the field for the start of the game.

In response to the threat of legal action by the FFRF, Kountze announced in September 2012 that they would prohibit the cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious statements on them.

There was a strong backlash against the decision, with parents of the cheerleaders suing Kountze ISD over their decision.

While the FFRF argued that the Bible banners were a government endorsement of religion, supporters of the cheerleaders countered that the Bible banners were the messages of a private organization and were not directly endorsed by the school system.

Earlier this month, State District Judge Steve Thomas ruled in favor of the cheerleaders and their parents, writing that "neither the Establishment Clause nor any other law prohibits the cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events."

In a press statement posted on their website earlier this month, Kountze ISD said they accepted the decision by Judge Thomas regarding the "run-through" banners at football games.

"Kountze ISD has been seeking such a ruling since the beginning of the case and recently adopted a resolution explaining why Kountze ISD believes that it should be able to allow the banners," reads the press release.

"The Board of Trustees … concluded that, at this time, the best procedure for the Kountze ISD community is to continue permitting such banners in the same manner in which they were permitted before former Superintendent Kevin Weldon received a threatening letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation."

The statement went on to explain that the school system is pursuing further legal action so as to clarify "various matters unclear or unsettled" with Judge Thomas' ruling.

"Kountze ISD is considering seeking clarification or review in order to avoid any future confusion regarding the legal status of the 'run-through' banners," said Kountze ISD in the statement.

According to Butterfield of the Liberty Institute, they have 20 days to file a response brief once the appeal has been filed.

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