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Entries in Cheerleaders (2)

Thursday
Oct182012

Judge Rules in Favor of Biblical Verses on Texas High School Football Banners

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KOUNTZE, Texas) -- When the Kountze Lions take to their home field Friday night in Kountze, Texas, to play football against the Newton Eagles, the Kountze cheerleaders will already have a win under their belt in the battle for religious freedom.

A Hardin County district court judge issued an injunction Thursday to allow the Kountze High School cheerleaders to continue to display banners bearing biblical verses at high school football games.

State District Judge Steven Thomas ruled that the school district's ban on Scripture verses on the banners at games violated the cheerleaders' free speech rights.

The squad is allowed to display the messages until June 2013, which is when there will be a full trial, said Mike Johnson, senior counsel for the Liberty Institute, a religious liberties defense organization that's representing the cheerleaders.

"This gets us through the football season," Johnson said. "We have four more games, including tomorrow night."

The cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the Kountze Independent School District and superintendent Kevin Weldon in September, after the school banned them from including religious messages on the banners.

This was the first year the squad had started putting biblical verses on the large, white paper banners held up for the football team to run through before games, said Liberty Institute spokesman Gregg Wooding.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the organization was hoping to challenge the decision in federal court.

The religious liberty organization got involved in the case when a member of the Kountze community contacted it after seeing biblical-verse banners displayed at a game.

"This is school-sponsored speech and [the cheerleaders] represent the school," Gaylor said. "They aren't just speaking as individuals."

Gaylor said she was surprised by the news conference held by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday, who both voiced their support for the cheerleaders and urged them to continue their fight against the district.

Abbott filed a motion to intervene in the case on Wednesday to "ensure [the cheerleaders'] freedom of expression in Kountze, Texas," and commended the cheerleaders for "standing up for a principle that is a fundamental right for students in this state, as well as Americans across this country."

"They shouldn't be using their power to create a hostile climate against a minority," Gaylor said, referring to nonreligious Texans.

Thomas had previously granted a temporary restraining order on Oct. 4 that allowed the cheerleaders to continue to display Scripture at games until a final decision was reached.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct052012

Cheerleaders See Victory as Judge Delays Decision on Religious Banners

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KOUNTZE, Texas) -- A Texas judge has given cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, two more weeks to display Bible verses on banners while he decides if they are violating the First Amendment.

The 32-girl cheerleading squad at Kountze High School have been both showing support for the team and displaying their religious beliefs by painting Bible verses on the banners that players run through before each game. Recently an unidentified spectator complained to an atheist group, which argued that the banners amount to a public school's advocating a particular religion, which is unconstitutional.

On Thursday, State District Judge Steve Thomas extended the temporary order he granted last month to allow the banners. The decision is a temporary win for the squad, who have rallied the support of their community and now have nearly 50,000 fans on a Facebook page devoted to their cause.

Banners displayed by the squad, which is made up of both middle school and high school girls, have included phrases like, "If God is for us, who can be against us. Romans 8:31," and "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13."

"This is not a Christian school and they cannot misuse their authority," said Annie-Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

School superintendent Kevin Weldon ultimately forced the cheerleaders to stop using scripture on the banners. That was when the squad members put down their pompoms and picked up the phone, calling attorney David Starnes, who argues that the banners are not school sponsored.

Coach Beth Richardson says that the squad has nothing out of the ordinary planned for Friday night's game against Woodville High, but that banners displaying scripture will be displayed. Richardson told ABC News that there are no cheerleaders on the squad who are against the banners.

"Everyone is town is supportive of it," she said.

The banner at Friday night's game, according to Starnes, will read, "Run with endurance the race God has put before you. Hebrews 12:1."

Starnes told ABC News that Friday's decision was a victory for the squad.

"The number one goal was to provide a means that the banner could be displayed. It will go up today, it will go up at next Friday's game, but the TRO will expire on Oct. 18," he said, referring to the temporary restraining order.

Starnes says that the case is a matter of private speech versus government speech. He argues that students have a limited public forum at school.

"They could have announced over the public address system that banner does not reflect the policy of the school district. To take the banner away from the students and say you can't do it at all is censorship."

Judge Thomas is scheduled to make a ruling on the 18th.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio