Kountze Cheerleaders Can Keep Bible Verses on Football Banners — for Now
Here's an update on the story I posted yesterday concerning the cheerleaders and students using Bible verses on their football game banners and signs at Kountze High School. The banners raised questions of religious freedom and the First Amendment.
The cheerleaders and students were just wanting different ways to show their faith by putting Bible verses on the banner messages, instead of the usual messages like "Beat the Eagles" or "Go Team Go" on the banner that the football players ran through at the start of a game.
The cheerleaders and students, scored a victory when a judge overturned, for now, school Superintendent Kevin Weldon's order banning the religious-themed signs. Weldon had told parents that student groups may not display religious signs at events sponsored by the high school.
The Texas Association of School Boards is the one that called Superintendent, Kevin Weldon, and recommended that the school district enforce the ban, arguing that school- sponsored speech must not endorse any particular religion. Joy Baskin, the association's director of legal services, said the U.S. Supreme Court considered similar factors in a previous case involving Texas high school football games.
This was unnerving to the school cheerleaders who made the signs, especially cheerleader, Macy Matthews. Here is what Macy told the Houston Chronicle:
It was upsetting because it's what motivated the boys each week,. " was shocked, really. I didn't understand why it would be a problem."
Parents of the cheerleaders filed a discrimination suit this week. Thursday, state District Judge Steven Thomas of Hardin County granted a temporary restraining order forbidding enforcement of the ban.
The organization Freedom From Religion Foundation got involved when they received complaints from citizens. Annie Laurie Gaylor, a co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said she was surprised that Thomas had granted the restraining order. She declared the law is clear on the issue.
"It may be there is a climate that has evolved here where people are growing up in the school district and not learning why we have a First Amendment," Gaylor said. "We need to go back to civics 101 … The school immediately did the right thing and are now being penalized for it."
Now the entire town of Kountze has gotten involved! Some Kountze business owners have placed signs in shop windows supporting the religious signs along with a Facebook group that was created after the ban, Support Kountze Kids Faith, had more than 36,000 members as of Thursday evening.
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4, at the cheerleaders' parents' request for a temporary injunction. Until then, the cheerleaders will be allowed to display the banners at games. The nonprofit Liberty Institute law firm, which is representing parents supporting the banners, obtained Thursday's court order.
The cheerleaders' lawyer, Davide Starnes, said the signs were created through an activity that was led by students. The cheerleaders raised their own money and used their own materials to make the signs. As far as he was concerned, the school district was taking way the students' right to free speech.
Starnes even noted a U.S. Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, that determined students did not shed their constitutional rights when they were on campus.
Cheerleader Macy Matthews said the mood at school is very tense, with some students siding with the cheerleaders and others with the district. Macy's mother, Coti Matthews, said she feels confident the cheerleaders and their parents will prevail:
"To that person that complained, I would say, 'Thank you.' If they wouldn't have complained, it wouldn't have reached all the people it has reached. All you have done is give more glory to God."