Last Updated:August 20 @ 12:21 pm

Texas court backs cheerleaders' display of religious banners

By Los Angeles Times

Cheerleaders in a small Texas town can continue to display their Bible verse banners at football games, after a district judge ruled Wednesday that their actions did not violate the Constitution.

The cheerleaders in the football-dominated town of Kountze garnered national attention when they sued the school district in a case that pitted free-speech rights and religious freedom against the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Hardin County 365th Judicial District Court Judge Stephen Thomas said the banners that included religious messages -- such as "If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31" -- made and displayed by Kountze high school and middle school cheerleaders were permitted under the Constitution.

"The evidence in the case confirms that religious messages expressed on run-through banners have not created, and will not create, an establishment of religion in the Kountze community," Thomas said in his ruling.

He didn't further explain his decision in the two-page summary judgment order.

The controversy began in September when the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., received a complaint about the banners. Foundation officials notified the Kountze Independent School District superintendent, who banned them.

The cheerleaders sued the school district with the help of the conservative Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute, arguing that the district violated their religious and free-speech rights.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Foundation, said the ruling was not just a victory for the cheerleaders.

"I think it has an impact across the country to let people know there is a big difference between the government [promoting] a message and cheerleaders privately promoting their own message," Sasser said.

Dallas attorney Thomas Brandt said school district officials would study the ruling and ask the judge for further clarification before deciding whether to appeal. He told The Times that district officials wanted to allow the banners because the community seemed to unanimously support them. But he said the district should not be required to allow them.

"We don't think you have a free-speech right to put up these banners because this is the school district's function," he said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation officials -- who were not a party in the suit -- were disappointed with the outcome, stating that they hope enough students, teachers and parents will contact them so they can take the case to federal court.

"We did not expect justice in a Texas state court," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation's co-president. "It's impossible to imagine a judge approving cheerleader messages saying, 'Atheists rule -- God is dead' or 'Allah is supreme -- pray to him for victory.'"

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.

___

(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

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12 Comments

  1. Kerry-USN-RetiredComment by kerryp
    May 10, 2013 @ 6:33 am

    Whatever happened to freedom in the U.S.?
    It would appear that the Muslims, the LGBT, the anti-Christians have all the freedom they desire. But those of us that love and worship GOD and his Son Jesus Christ are denied the freedom to worship. What is to stop these anti-Christians in saying that a county or state is government and their so called separation will prevent the worship of GOD in their county or state?

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    • Dancing DanComment by grantjrdaniel
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:06 am

      You are getting a little carried away, we have our freedom to worship who we please but the home and Church are the place for it not in a government supplied school where tax money is used, it’s Separation of Church and State. The constitution gives us freedom of Religion and also freedom from Religion. I will venture to say that this belligerent Texas judge will in the end, will be shot down, just like that idiot judge in Alabama that refused to follow the rules.

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    • bna42Comment by bna42
      May 10, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

      “. . .the home and Church are the place for it not in a government supplied school where tax money is used, it’s Separation of Church and State.”

      Your opinion is based on the fallacy of Separation of Church and State. It doesn’t exist and it’s not in the Constitution. You are referring to the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment, but you ignore the next phrase which clearly says the government shall not “prohibit the free exercise thereof”.

      Free exercise does not mean ONLY in your home or in your church. Free exercise does not mean to exclude taxpayer-supported facilities. If you really believe in “separation of church and state”, why don’t you apply that same belief to the Muslims who are catered to by our same government? They are allowed to freely exercise their religion in public on tax-supported streets, they are offered special concessions by employers and state-supported universities where they practice their religion. Why are you only opposed to public expression of Christianity?

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    • usafoldsargeComment by usafoldsarge
      May 13, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

      grant, I defy you, with your limited intelligence to show us where it is required that church and state must be separated. The 1st amendment specifically PROHIBITS the Federal Government from establishing any religion (as the OFFICAL religion)and prohibits the same from prohibiting the free exercise there of. A sixth grader of 50 years ago fully understood this, just as he understood that some idiots took Jefferson’s letter and tried to make it sound like it came from the 1st amendment-because he had had a hand in writing the Constitution,
      The separation of church and state is a phrase originally coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The church, according to their letter to Jefferson dated October 7, 1801, was concerned there would be a denominational church state. The Supreme Court of the United States in 1962 borrowed this phrase in their Court decision to make public school prayer unconstitutional

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state

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  2. LardoComment by Lardo
    May 10, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    I would never suggest that we simply bowdown to this type of oppression. Or even to tolerate it. In fact I believe we have a duty to stand against it. However, that being said, we do need to realize that this is but a(nother) sign of the coming times.

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  3. handymanherbComment by handymanherb
    May 10, 2013 @ 9:20 am

    It was Freedom of Religion, not free of religion the founding Fathers had in mind

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  4. Dingbat36Comment by Dingbat36
    May 10, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    The left has worked so hard for so long MISinterpreting the “establishment” clause that they actually think they have added some kind of restrictions to the original wording of the amendment.

    The full text is as follows:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    The most important wording in this clause are the last 6 words…..”OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF”. I see absolutely nothing in the wording concerning restrictions as to time or place!

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  5. bna42Comment by bna42
    May 10, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    “The controversy began in September when the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., received a complaint about the banners”.

    When a “complaint is received” it should not remain anonymous. If someone feels that a complaint is justified, the individual should publicly make the complaint.

    In a rural town here in Oklahoma, the school board is meeting Monday night to discuss how to deal with a similar issue. The school superintendent SAYS he received an anonymous complaint for ONE person requesting the Ten Commandments plaques be removed from the class rooms. The public has a right to know IF there was actually a complaint or if the superintendent just thought that a complaint might come in the future. As long as these people are allowed to remain anonymous and let the ACLU fight their battle, this type of nonsense will continue. If there is ONE person in that school district wants to see the plaques removed, his name should be made public so the entire community would know who is attacking a decades old school policy. The chances are that he would be moving from the community.

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    • atheistComment by atheist
      May 10, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

      One person making a complaint against religion must, by necessity, remain anonymous as long as there is one religious nut. This religious nut finds safety and bravery with others of his ilk. By himself, he is nothing but a sniveling coward. A crowd of cowards does not make for a good community.

      All religious people are brainwashed zombies, whether they be xtians, muslims, jews or what ever. They are all related to each other in make believe fantasies.

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    • 1389ADComment by 1389AD
      May 10, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

      Not only the complainer’s name should be revealed, but also his address, the name and address of his employer or school, all of his phone numbers, all of his email addresses, along with a recent photograph.

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    • bna42Comment by bna42
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

      atheist, anyone who is so bothered by a religious symbol in public that he has to complain about it should not be coward enough to hide behind secrecy. He should be prepared to stand up for his beliefs and suffer the consequences. You refer to “religious nuts” as cowards, but the real coward is the ONE person who wants to cause trouble behind the scenes while he remains in the shadows. If he is so offended by the acts of the “religious nuts” let him publicly express his frustrations. Otherwise his complaint is not credible and should be ignored.

      How many religious people have complained about your atheism and tried to prevent you from practicing your lack of religion?

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  6. bowler1hatComment by bowler1hat
    May 11, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    In a time when personal preference seems to guide judges more than the law, it is refreshing to see at least one victory!

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