The Court's Order Is a Victory for the Kountze Cheerleaders: A Response to Hemant Mehta
Editor's Note: From time to time, we hear from organizations or individuals who object to the way in which they were characterized by one of our writers. We encourage them to join the conversation and share their own thoughts on the Patheos platform, and in this case the Liberty Institute was gracious enough to share a response to a post from Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, for us to publish.
Although Hemant Mehta (the "Friendly Atheist") may disagree with a Texas judge's decision to grant an injunction allowing religious messages at football games, he cannot truthfully deny that it is a victory for the Kountze cheerleaders.
By way of background, this year, the cheerleaders at Kountze ISD decided to use positive, religious messages instead of negative, often violent messages (think "Scalp the Indians"), on their cheerleading banners. After a Wisconsin-based anti-religion group complained, the superintendent banned the religious speech.
In response, the cheerleaders brought a lawsuit. They argued that the school's order prohibiting religious speech violated their rights. The court agreed, and issued a temporary injunction, preventing the school from censoring the cheerleaders' religious messages.
In his initial posting on October 30, 2012, Mr. Mehta accused Liberty Institute of "lying" when calling the temporary injunction a victory. His blog was titled: "Liberty Institute Lies about Winning Court Case Regarding Kountze Cheerleaders."
That wasn't very "friendly," if you ask us.
After Liberty Institute wrote Mr. Mehta a letter explaining the significance of a temporary injunction and provided him a copy of the order, he toned down his rhetoric. He now accuses Liberty Institute of "exaggerating" the claim of victory. The posting now reads: "Liberty Institute Exaggerates Their Win in a Court Case Regarding Kountze Cheerleaders."
Although we appreciate that Mr. Mehta no longer accuses us of blatant dishonesty, his claim that we are "exaggerating" remains incorrect.
By all accounts, Mr. Mehta is not a lawyer and did not attend law school (indeed, Mr. Mehta's biography states that he is a high school math teacher). It strikes us as strange that one who has no legal training would opine about the merits of a temporary injunction.
A temporary injunction is an "extraordinary remedy" (Walling v. Metcalfe, 863 S.W.2d 56, 57 (Tex. 1993)) that courts do not grant lightly. Before issuing such an order, the court must determine that plaintiffs have a probable right to the relief sought. In doing so, the court must assess the merits of the case.
In the Kountze case, the court heard live testimony from four witnesses and received extensive briefing from the cheerleaders, the school district, and the Texas Attorney General's Office. After considering all the evidence and legal authorities, the judge ordered the Kountze Independent School District and its superintendent, Kevin Weldon, to "cease and desist from preventing the cheerleaders of Kountze Independent School District from displaying banners on run throughs at sporting events and/or censoring the sentiments expressed thereon."
Jeffrey Mateer is the general counsel of Liberty Institute, a national non-profit law firm that works to protect religious liberty.
Erin Leu is an attorney at Liberty Institute who represents the Kountze Cheerleaders in Matthews v. Kountze I.S.D.