Law & Courts

Texas Cheerleaders Take Religious Message Battle to State Supreme Court

By Bryan Toporek — August 11, 2014 1 min read
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A group of Texas high school cheerleaders last week filed a petition with the state Supreme Court over an ongoing dispute about the display of banners with religious messages at high school football games, according to multiple reports.

In Oct. 2012, a state judge issued a temporary injunction allowing cheerleaders at Kountze High School in Kountze, Texas, to continue displaying run-through banners with Bible verses at football games after the school prohibited them from doing so. According to my colleague Mark Walsh, the district, which had received a complaint from the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the banners represented school-sponsored speech and thus were not permitted.

District Judge Steven Thomas, however, disagreed. In his order to issue the injunction, he wrote, “If the temporary injunction is not issued, the [school district and superintendent’s] unlawful policy prohibiting private religious expression will remain in effect and the plaintiffs will be prohibited from exercising their constitutional and statutory rights at all football games and other school sporting events.”

After the trial last May, Thomas again ruled in favor of the cheerleaders, confirming the preliminary ruling he issued the previous fall. “The evidence in this case confirms that religious messages on run-through banners have not created, and will not create, an establishment of religion in the Kountze community,” the judge wrote in his decision.

The district appealed the decision, however, after adopting a policy that permitted cheerleaders to display religious messages on banners. Because of the new policy, the Ninth Court of Appeals declared the original ruling moot.

“We find no evidence in the record that under Kountze ISD’s new policy, the cheerleaders’ speech has been prohibited,” the appeals court wrote in its decision. “We conclude the allegedly wrongful behavior has passed and cannot reasonably be expected to recur.”

Thus, the cheerleaders are pushing for the state Supreme Court to confirm the original ruling, which would prohibit the district from going back on its new policy. David Starnes, who has represented the cheerleaders since the original Oct. 2012 case,

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.