Cheerleaders See Victory as Judge Delays Decision on Religious Banners
by ABC Digital
(KOUNTZE, Texas) -- A Texas judge has given cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, two more weeks to display Bible verses on banners while he decides if they are violating the First Amendment.
The 32-girl cheerleading squad at Kountze High School have been both showing support for the team and displaying their religious beliefs by painting Bible verses on the banners that players run through before each game. Recently an unidentified spectator complained to an atheist group, which argued that the banners amount to a public school's advocating a particular religion, which is unconstitutional.
On Thursday, State District Judge Steve Thomas extended the temporary order he granted last month to allow the banners. The decision is a temporary win for the squad, who have rallied the support of their community and now have nearly 50,000 fans on a Facebook page devoted to their cause.
Banners displayed by the squad, which is made up of both middle school and high school girls, have included phrases like, "If God is for us, who can be against us. Romans 8:31," and "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13."
"This is not a Christian school and they cannot misuse their authority," said Annie-Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.
School superintendent Kevin Weldon ultimately forced the cheerleaders to stop using scripture on the banners. That was when the squad members put down their pompoms and picked up the phone, calling attorney David Starnes, who argues that the banners are not school sponsored.
Coach Beth Richardson says that the squad has nothing out of the ordinary planned for Friday night's game against Woodville High, but that banners displaying scripture will be displayed. Richardson told ABC News that there are no cheerleaders on the squad who are against the banners.
"Everyone is town is supportive of it," she said.
The banner at Friday night's game, according to Starnes, will read, "Run with endurance the race God has put before you. Hebrews 12:1."
Starnes told ABC News that Friday's decision was a victory for the squad.
"The number one goal was to provide a means that the banner could be displayed. It will go up today, it will go up at next Friday's game, but the TRO will expire on Oct. 18," he said, referring to the temporary restraining order.
Starnes says that the case is a matter of private speech versus government speech. He argues that students have a limited public forum at school.
"They could have announced over the public address system that banner does not reflect the policy of the school district. To take the banner away from the students and say you can't do it at all is censorship."
Judge Thomas is scheduled to make a ruling on the 18th.
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