A Texas school district is appealing a decision that allowed high school cheerleaders to write Bible verses on run-through banners – just weeks after a judge ruled such banners are protected under the Constitution.
The Liberty Institute, a law firm representing the Kountze High School cheerleaders said the Kountze Independent School District will appeal the decision made by Judge Steven Thomas. The judge had determined that no law “prohibits cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events.”
“We think the attorneys on the other side are reading into the court’s decision rights that just aren’t there,” school district attorney Tom Brandt said in a statement to the Beaumont Enterprise. “The school district believes that it is in everyone’s best interestes to seek clarification rather than subject the district to additional costly litigation in the future. The school board’s decision to appeal was not made lightly, particularly given the fact that the district court’s order actually granted some of the relief the school district sought, namely, that Kountze ISD is not required to prohibit religious-themed banners at school sporting events.”
The dispute began during the last football season when the district barred the cheerleaders from using run-through banners that displayed religious messages, such as “If God is for us, who can be against us.”
Many thought the ruling had ended a seven-month legal battle between the cheerleaders and the school district.
The Kountze school district had initially said the banners could not be displayed after receiving a complaint about them in September from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation argued the banners violated the so-called First Amendment Establishment Clause that bars government — or publicly funded school districts in this case — from establishing or endorsing a religion.
“It is unfortunate that Kountze ISD keeps spending taxpayer money fighting against the speech rights of these cheerleaders,” said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute. “I do not understand why the school district cannot simply accept that it lost and move on instead of continuing to fight against these cheerleaders who simply wanted to encourage the players with uplifting messages.”
The cheerleaders were supported by various state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who filed court papers seeking to intervene on their behalf. A Facebook group created after the ban, Support Kountze Kids Faith, has more than 45,000 members.
Perry in a statement said the cheerleaders “showed great resolve and maturity beyond their years in standing up for their beliefs and constitutional rights.”
Among the young Christian girls’ detractors were the Anti-Defamation League and the The Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said the banners “carry the appearance of school endorsement and favoritism, turning Christians into insiders and non-Christians and nonbelievers into outsiders.”
With reporting from Associated Press