Entries in Free Speech (2)


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


Is a Facebook ‘Like’ Protected Under the First Amendment?

Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Back in April, a U.S. District Judge ruled that hitting the Facebook “Like” button wasn’t protected under the First Amendment. You know, the one that ensures our freedom of speech.

The case involved six employees who worked for Sheriff B.J. Roberts in Hampton, Virginia. In 2009, Roberts was running for reelection and one of the six -- Daniel Ray Carter -- “liked” Robert’s opponent on Facebook. After the election, the Sheriff fired Carter and the others. The employees brought the case to court, but the judge threw out the case, ruling that clicking on “like” wasn’t protected by the First Amendment.

However, Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union are on the case now. Both have filed their own friend-of-the-court, or Amicus Curiae, briefs in appeal of the judge’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to express their thoughts and opinions in whatever form they choose to do so, whether it’s speaking on a street corner, holding up a sign, or pressing a button on Facebook to say that you ‘Like’ something,” ACLU attorney Aden Fine said in a comment.

“Whether someone presses a ‘Like’ button to express those thoughts or presses the buttons on a keyboard to write out those words, the end result is the same: one is telling the world about one’s personal beliefs, interests and opinions. That is exactly what the First Amendment protects, however that information is conveyed,” says the ACLU brief. The entire ACLU brief can be read here.

Facebook makes a similar argument in its brief. “Liking a Facebook page is entitled to full First Amendment protection,” says the Facebook brief. “The district court reached a contrary conclusion based on an apparent misunderstanding of the way Facebook works; the resulting decision clashes with decades of precedent and bedrock First Amendment principles.”

Facebook argues, “If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, ‘I like Jim Adams for Hampton sheriff,’ there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech.”

There were other issues, unrelated to freedom of speech, that the judge cited in dismissing the case in April, according to the Hampton local paper, the Daily Press. So even if a Facebook “like” ultimately deserves First Amendment protection, it isn’t clear if the issue would be enough to send the case back to court.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio