On Wednesday, State District Judge Steven Thomas wrote in a two-page decision that waving of “Bible banners” by cheerleaders during football games is constitutionally protected free speech. Thomas observed that no law “prohibits the cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events.” He said the tradition will be permitted to continue.
The instant case arose when The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group promoting separation of the church and the state opposed the tradition of Kountze, a small town in Texas. In Kountze, which has about 2,100 inhabitants, it has long been a tradition of cheerleaders to write Bible verses and religious messages on sheets of paper.
However, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the superintendent of the town complaining that such banners violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. The group stressed that the town was not abiding by the provision of the First Amendment that stated government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The bewildered district, which had passed no such law enforcing Bible banners, still tried to stop the display of such banners in response to the letter sent to them by the FFRF. Then it was the turn of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which is “dedicated to defending religious liberty in America,” to sue the school district for stopping cheerleaders from displaying Bible banners.
After the ruling by Thomas, Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF called the ruling “outrageous,” while Jeff Mateer, the General Counsel of Liberty Institute said “The message that this decision sends is it is impermissible for the government to ban the private speech of students.”
FFRF’s Gaylor further said, “We are hoping that students, parents, and faculty members will come forward when this practice continues and we will be able to sue in federal court where this case really belongs.”
On his part, Texas Governor Rick Perry said on Wednesday, “Today’s ruling is a win for free speech and religious freedom.”