(KOUNTZE, Texas) — When the Kountze Lions take to their home field Friday night in Kountze, Texas, to play football against the Newton Eagles, the Kountze cheerleaders will already have a win under their belt in the battle for religious freedom.
A Hardin County district court judge issued an injunction Thursday to allow the Kountze High School cheerleaders to continue to display banners bearing biblical verses at high school football games.
State District Judge Steven Thomas ruled that the school district’s ban on Scripture verses on the banners at games violated the cheerleaders’ free speech rights.
The squad is allowed to display the messages until June 2013, which is when there will be a full trial, said Mike Johnson, senior counsel for the Liberty Institute, a religious liberties defense organization that’s representing the cheerleaders.
“This gets us through the football season,” Johnson said. “We have four more games, including tomorrow night.”
The cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the Kountze Independent School District and superintendent Kevin Weldon in September, after the school banned them from including religious messages on the banners.
This was the first year the squad had started putting biblical verses on the large, white paper banners held up for the football team to run through before games, said Liberty Institute spokesman Gregg Wooding.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the organization was hoping to challenge the decision in federal court.
The religious liberty organization got involved in the case when a member of the Kountze community contacted it after seeing biblical-verse banners displayed at a game.
“This is school-sponsored speech and [the cheerleaders] represent the school,” Gaylor said. “They aren’t just speaking as individuals.”
Gaylor said she was surprised by the news conference held by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday, who both voiced their support for the cheerleaders and urged them to continue their fight against the district.
Abbott filed a motion to intervene in the case on Wednesday to “ensure [the cheerleaders’] freedom of expression in Kountze, Texas,” and commended the cheerleaders for “standing up for a principle that is a fundamental right for students in this state, as well as Americans across this country.”
“They shouldn’t be using their power to create a hostile climate against a minority,” Gaylor said, referring to nonreligious Texans.
Thomas had previously granted a temporary restraining order on Oct. 4 that allowed the cheerleaders to continue to display Scripture at games until a final decision was reached.
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