A group of small town cheerleaders have the support of the Lone Star State. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus curiae briefwith the Texas Supreme Court last Friday, urging the Court to protect the rights of several Kountze public school students, who are clients of Liberty Institute.
Hailing from Kountze, Texas, the cheerleaders are fighting for their freedom to write Bible verses on run-through banners at school sporting events—rights that were challenged when the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained in 2012, and then challenged by the ACLU at the Texas Supreme Court in support of the school district.
Even though Liberty Institute and the cheerleaders won the initial battle in 2013, the school district still claims that the cheerleaders’ banners are government speech—and therefore subject to censorship and possible future banning at the school’s discretion.
Liberty Institute applauds Attorney General Paxton and the State of Texas for supporting the Kountze cheerleaders.
“We are grateful for Attorney General Ken Paxton’ support of the Kountze cheerleaders,” Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford stated, “but more importantly, for his staunch defense of free speech and religious expression of public school students.”
POSITIVE MESSAGES SUBJECTED TO SCRUTINY
In 2012, middle school and high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, decided to paint positive and inspirational messages on run-through banners at football games. The decision to use Bible verses was made by the entire cheer squad and the students themselves. The cheerleaders and their families purchased all materials.
But after receiving a complaint letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Kountze ISD superintendent banned the religious messages.
Supported by their parents and the community, the cheerleaders decided to fight for their free speech and religious liberty rights. The case garnered nation-wide attention.
In September 2012, Liberty Institute and Beaumont attorney David Starnes filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders and their parents, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and temporary injunction to prohibit government school officials from censoring the cheerleader’s religious speech.
The judge granted the TRO (and later a temporary injunction), allowing the cheerleaders to continue using the signs for the remainder of the 2012 football season. Kountze ISD stated it would allow the banners, but still claimed the right to censor—or even ban—the messages.
In May 2013, Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas granted the cheerleaders a victory, saying that the banners were “constitutionally permissible.”
But Kountze ISD filed an appeal with the Beaumont Court of Appeals. And the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped in to file a brief against the cheerleaders. In May 2014, the Beaumont Court of Appeals said that because Kountze ISD stated it would allow the banners, the case and the district court ruling was moot. However, it left unresolved the claim by the Kountze ISD that the cheerleaders’ banners were government speech subject to school censorship or an outright ban. On behalf of the cheerleaders, Liberty Institute, David Starnes, and appellate counsel Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are seeking the Texas Supreme Court’s review of that decision.
In May 2015 Liberty Institute submitted further briefing on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders, as requested by the Texas Supreme Court, and is hopeful the Court will resolve this case involving religious freedom and speech rights of public school students.
AT STAKE: ALL STUDENTS’ FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN SCHOOL
As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America, attacks against the religious free speech rights of students are escalating as more and more secular, anti-religious organizations send misinformation and legal threats to school officials.
But the law is on the side of religious freedom in schools, and Liberty Institute vows to continue the fight on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders, and protect freedom for future students nationwide.
To learn more about the religious rights of students and teachers in school, read or download Liberty Institute’s new, free-of-charge Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers.
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.