The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

October 18, 2012

Judge expected to rule in Bible verse banner suit



AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas judge is expected to rule Thursday whether a group of cheerleaders should be allowed to continue quoting biblical scripture on banners at high school football games.

District officials barred the Kountze High School cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious messages such as, "If God is for us, who can be against us," after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained. The advocacy group says the messages violated the First Amendment clause barring the government — or a publicly funded school district, in this case — from establishing or endorsing a religion.

The Kountze High School cheerleaders sued, arguing that the ban violates their free speech rights, and state District Judge Steve Thomas issued an injunction allowing them to display the banners until he could issue a ruling, which he was expected to do at a hearing later Thursday.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott filed court papers to intervene in the lawsuit, backing the cheerleaders' position that the district's ban violated their free speech rights. The Texas Education Code also states that schools must respect the rights of students to express their religious beliefs.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is dedicated to the separation of church and state, also intervened saying in the context of a football game it was unclear who was responsible for the messages, the school or the cheerleaders.

"The speech in question is government speech or, at a minimum, school-sponsored speech," the group said in court papers. "If the majority of the cheerleaders were atheists, would a court support their 'right' to hold up a banner insulting Christianity or all believers? The district has every right to simply prohibit all run-through and on-field banners."

Republican Gov. Rick Perry also has spoken out in favor of the cheerleaders.

"Anyone who is expressing their faith should be celebrated, from my perspective, in this day and age of instant gratification, this me-first culture that we see all too often," Perry said Wednesday. "We're a nation built on the concept of free expression of ideas. We're also a culture built on the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments."

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