The Bible-Promoting Cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas Go To Court

Good Morning America had a story this morning about the Kountze Independent School District cheerleaders and their football run-through banners with Bible verses on them:

My favorite part of the clip has to be the banner they featured in the segment:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

I don’t know… how about the other team?! And atheists. And Constitutional scholars. And, heck, God Himself if you’re gay or lesbian.

The cheerleaders aren’t helping their case when they admit this is all about promoting Jesus:

Kieara Moffett, a cheerleader at Kountze High School, said that the she believes this is about freedom of expression.

“They have the right to say whatever they want,” she said. “But it’s our religion and we want to portray that.”

Then do it in church. Do it at home. Do it anywhere you want, really. In fact, one of the only places you can’t promote your faith is when you’re representing your public school. The courts have agreed with that idea repeatedly.

The two sides were in court earlier today arguing this case in front of a judge. Now, it’s in his hands. If he allows the verses to continue, you can bet the case will be appealed and overturned.

But it shouldn’t come to that. A judge who respects the law should rule against these banners.

***Update***: Judge Steve Thomas temporarily extended the order allowing the cheerleaders to display their banners for a little while longer. The court will revisit the issue on October 18th.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Where Are My Beets?

    Because when I think of ways to promote a particular religion, I can think of no better way than to tear the words to shreds, and have people in dirty cleats run all over them.

    • Sindigo

      Depending on one’s perspective these could be considered supremely anti-religious. Doing this to a picture of Mohammed would probably end in bloodshed.

  • Ranson

    Anyone else think that this is going to get “temporarily extended ” until football season is over?

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      Yeah, it’s obvious.

    • Mandocommando23

      Those were my thoughts exactly!

    • Jennifer

       Same thing I thought as soon as I saw the extension.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Beth Richardson, cheerleading sponsor and middle school counselor, testified that she never read the cheerleader constitution
    .
    I am “not very reliant on the document,” she said.
    http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Cheerleader-first-to-testify-in-Kountze-religious-3917264.php

    Ya, that’s not the only Constitution she doesn’t rely on.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    [Moffett] cried while on the stand, saying she felt her religion wasn’t good enough when she was told she couldn’t use the signs.

    The Christian Persecution Complex is strong in this one.

    • Tainda

      The young padawan will go far

      • Sindigo

        Our side has cookies, apparently.

        • Tainda

          Yeah and they are baby flavored too!

    • ortcutt

      That’s some pretty weak faith, if not being able to put religious messages on run-through banners was enough to make her doubt her religion. 

    • ConureDelSol

      Mmm…delicious tears…

  • http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/ James A. Lindsay

    All this (painfully slowly) unfolding story says to me, repeatedly, is “God needs cheerleaders,” which is the same as “belief in God can’t sustain itself.”

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      “What does God need with a starship cheerleaders?”

      • Drew M.

        He’s a pedophile like his priests?

  • newavocation

    That sign is exactly what is wrong with religion. God is with us so whatever atrocities we commit must be fine with him! 

  • jdm8

    Promoting religion while representing a taxpayer funded school. Yay. I don’t think there’s anything saying you can’t have a sign in the grand stands, you can’t give the impression the school is endorsing religion, which is the key difference.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      This opinion piece by one of the Liberty Lawyers seems to indicate that the school policy announced at a game may have gone overboard. 

      Kountze High School’s PA system blared that no student group could display any religious message at Kountze High School games. This ban was so broad that it would prevent many students sitting in the bleachers from wearing religious shirts or jewelry.

       But he’s short on details, and he misconstrues enough other stuff that I’m doubtful myself.  This was posted in one of the more reasonable discussion pages, and to the best of my knowledge, nobody local has confirmed it.

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/oct/3/johnson-and-butterfield-high-school-cheerleaders-b/

  • Michael

    So, when they were using that banner, who won the game?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      From what I recall, they’re 3-0.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

        They’re 4-0 now. Not relevant, but interesting side note :)

        • Tainda

          Think they will hold up a sign for the Chiefs?  hahaha  I kid, I kid…

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          What do you want to bet that when a court finally does ban the banners, that’ll be the first game they lose, thus confirming with absolute scientific certainty that God rewards biblical verse on high school banners.

          That and whatever natural disaster that happens to hit anywhere near Texas.  Or a car crash.  Or pretty much anything.

    • Kountze Liberal

      They lost last night’s game

  • Ronlawhouston

    I’m sure he’s hoping he can “punt” the case down the road until football season is over.  What a wimp judge.  I’ll bet he’s a Republican.

  • ortcutt

    I have no doubt that if Romney is elected and gets to appoint two Supreme Court justices, then the Establishment Clause is toast.  The Supreme Court will read it out of existence.  People in religious areas will need to get used to a lot more of this kind of thing.

  • Gary B

    From the article about the extension:  “Superintendent Weldon told [the judge] he believes he violated district policy by banning the signs. He also
    said he feels like he got bad legal advice, which led to his decision to
    ban the signs.”

    I was negative about Weldon before and felt a little guilty.  Now not so much.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    A judge who respects the law should rule against these banners.

    I hate to bring up stereotypes, but this is Texas we are talking about.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish Cuttlefish

    Hey, *somebody* has to stand up for the popular kids in the majority, when the unpopular minority kids play the “it’s unconstitutional” card!

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2012/10/04/texas-cheerleaders-fight-the-tyranny-of-the-minority/

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    Truly I weep for the unpopular and ever-persecuted high school cheerleaders. Poor things, don’t they have enough to deal with? Surely they are the pariahs of the school, being Christian, and popular high school students.

  • Annie

     I understand the “god” on their banner being in bold, but why the “for”?  And what’s with the hooligigs on the “who”? 

    What happens when they play another Christian school?  Can god be for both of them?  Someone has to win, no?   I am shocked that god would give a hoot about a football game in the first place, but if two Christian teams were playing would he actually take sides?? And if he did, would that mean the losing team is going to hell and they should just cash in and lean towards a life of crime right now, since they obviously can’t be going to heaven if god isn’t for them.  This is all so confusing… I’m so glad I’m an atheist and can use my brainpower for more important things.

    • Anonymous Atheist

      It’s quite vague, but I’d guess those things on the ‘who’ are supposed to allude to demonic horns.

      ‘God’ is the boldest word on there; the ‘for’ has the same slighter boldness as the ‘us’. The result of all three of those words being in bold seems to be that if the whole whopping 10-word sentence is too hard for some to puzzle through, the key message of “God for us” can be easily extracted.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Huh. I recall this other group with a very similar slogan, “Gott mit uns”, can’t remember who they were….

  • c smythe

    How is it they ban atheists with no religion but allow cheer leaders to promote their faith all in a suposed seperation of church and state environment? You ‘mercans are so confusing . . .

  • amycas

    This is what we get in Texas for electing our judges (at the district/county level) instead of appointing them based on merit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

    so if god is with them, how do they explain losing?
    oh, of course, “our faith wasn’t strong enough in this game”

  • rupi capra

     The FFRF is way off base in going after a bunch of high school cheerleaders. The ACLU has frequently {or so I’ve read } defended the right of religious students’ right to express themselves. In one case even students in uniform–football players. Not an exact precedent but there are no exact precedents that I can find. That other cheerleader case  didn’t result in a court ruling one way or the other.

    • Baal

       Theses banners do not look like personal religious expression.  They are used by the full cheerleading squad at a high attention time and to the entire audience.  Far from being personal, it’s integrated into the pre-game ceremony.  That looks pretty damn like it’s official and the school is going whole hog for the prayers the scripture represents.  Really Capra, you’d be ok if the cheer squad were Scientologists and the banner read, “Xenu will help you realize your full potential?”

      • rupi capra

        It doesn’t matter what I’m OK  with, it’s just none of my business. Its hard to say that the school is going whole hog for the bible banners when the judge issued a restraining order on the school for banning them. I don’t like censorship, even of Christians.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

          It is not personal speech it is government speech. The only reason they are in any position to be displaying these banners during football games is because of their membership on the official school cheerleading squad. See Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer” are not private, but public speech. “Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pregame prayer as stamped with her school’s seal of approval

      That sounds pretty close to me.  The school only banned the banners AFTER they got a letter from FFRF, and legal advice that they were violating the Establishment clause. Whether or not the school encourages the message, they clearly have a great deal of control over what message the cheer leaders present.  Not sure what you mean by the ‘other cheer leader case’, but if it’s the rape victim, there was a ruling.  The school could force her to either present their message, or kick her off the team.  She had no right, as a cheer leader, to pick and choose her speech.

      This isn’t censorship.  Look at it this way: if one person has an opportunity to express a religious message in a specific way/venue, then everyone should have that same opportunity.  The banners aren’t ‘available’ to everyone.  Anyone can rent a billboard, or build a church, or wear a t-shirt with a religious message.  But not everyone can have their religious message put on banners on the field at a HS football game.  Those banners are government property, so if they’re going to be used to endorse religion, then they need to be a true free speech zone, and other religions have to have equal opportunity to have their message on those banners.

      • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

         The update link also mentions from the testimony that the “cheerleader constitution [...] says she’s a representative of the school at all times”. As with Santa Fe v Doe (part (a) of the holdings): explicit representatives of the school, under faculty supervision, on school property, at a school-sponsored football game, creating a forum with restricted access, with a majoritarian process guaranteeing minority (EG: atheist/secularist) views will be effectively silenced, and the District failing to distance itself from the religious content by any visible or announced disclaimer.

        Aside from arbitrary caprice of the judge, I really don’t see how it can end well for the district.

  • miker42

    From the beaumont enterprise article linked by Rich Wilson:

    “Kountze High School cheerleader Kieara Moffett was the first to testify Thursday, saying Scripture signs were meant to inspire everyone – not just Kountze players.”

    Thinking everyone would be inspired by scripture demonstrates her naivete concerning the diversity of her community. I understand that a sheltered young person can, through her ignorance, unintentionally take action that is intolerant of others. Now she has been informed that there are people who do not believe in her particular god.

    I don’t doubt the goal of the cheerleaders truly was to inspire “everyone”. Now they know scripture does not contain content with which that can be done. Continuing to use scripture shows that inspiring “everyone” is no longer their goal, and tolerance is not a social skill effectively taught in their church.

    • Willy Occam

      My guess is that these cheerleaders’ parents demonstrate the same naivete and ignorance as their young children.  Such is the effect of religious indoctrination. 

  • Gus Snarp

    I don’t understand these judges. The law on this issue seems exceedingly clear. If you don’t want to rule just yet or there’s some reason to delay the actual case, fine, but it seems to me that existing precedent ought to clearly call for a temporary injunction against the banners until the case is tried, not allowing the banners to continue. This makes no sense.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Isn’t there just one kid at that school who can demand his or her “right” to put a Scientology or Muslim or Hindu message on that run through banner?

  • Rwlawoffice

    There is a good argument that the actions of the cheerleaders are perfectly legal. It is something they do on their own, it is there own personal expression of faith that cannot be prohibited by the school. The “cheerleading constitution ” doesn’t not eliminate their right to religious expression   nor does it men that because they represent the school this right goes away at a football game.  It does mean that they can be disciplined for breaking school rules, but it doesn’t turn them into staff or employees of the school such that their rights are controlled like the teachers.

    Try as the atheists might, the right to religious expression is not limited to the right to freedom of worship. It extends outside of the church and allows people to express their faith.  Don’t be surprised if this is upheld and the banners continue.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Try as the atheists might, the right to religious expression is not limited to the right to freedom of worship.

      You know the Does in Santa Fe were not atheists, right?  And you do know atheists keep encouraging the fans at the game to be as religious as they want in the stands, where nobody has an exclusive.  Anyone can buy a ticket and go to the game with a t-shirt of their reasonable choosing.  Not everyone can have their own religious message displayed on the field.

      And you know the AU’s official statement on student rights says:

      Public School Students Have the Right to:Pray in schools if it’s their own decision and they’re not disrupting class.
      Read the Bible and other religious books during their free time.
      Join voluntary religious clubs in secondary schools that meet during non-instructional time (as long as other non-curriculum related clubs are meeting).
      Take classes about religion in an academic subject, as long as the approach is objective and non-dogmatic. Public Schools May Not:Compel, require or pressure students to take part in prayer, scripture reading or other forms of worship.Sponsor religious events or speakers who proselytize.Include officials prayers in school events, such as graduation or football games.Teach creationism in science classes.Permit teachers to preach in class.

      • Rwlawoffice

         Last I heard the Freedom from Religion Foundation was an atheist organization and is the run trying to end this practice.  The problems in Santa Fe are not here to my knowledge.  Here the cheerleaders design the banners and select what is on them.  The school district does not select it nor is there a voting mechanism like there was in Santa Fe.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          That a (not strictly atheist) organization is involved says nothing about atheist understanding of the difference between religious worship and religious expression.  We’re not confused, and we’re not trying to make one thing something else, and we’re not trying to squash all religious expression from public view.

          We disagree on whether this particular religious expression is private or public.  You say it’s private because it’s of the cheer leaders’ own volition.  ‘We’ (being most of the people on this blog) say it’s public due to the nature of the cheer leaders’ role as agents of the school and the role the banner plays in the official school event.

          • Rwlawoffice

            Trying to make the distinction between public and private expression is exactly what I am talking about. Nothing in the constitution says that religious expression must be private. If you are saying public equals state sponsored that is different, but most of what I see on here is public in the sense of in the public square even by a private citizen in the capacity of a private individual. Comments like, pray all you want at home, pray all you want in the stands to yourself, pray all you want in church, etc.. Religious freedom includes the right to a public expression of faith even where others can see you and hear you. The state, I.e. the school in this case cannot infringe upon that.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              If you are saying public equals state sponsored that is different

              That’s almost exactly what I’m saying.  I think I’d say ‘endorsed’ not ‘sponsored’ but it’s pretty close.  In the stands doesn’t have to mean ‘to yourself’.  You can pray as loudly as you want.  And your family can all pray at your BBQ in the public park.  And the Muslims at the next table can get out their blankets with compasses and pray to Mecca.  And as long as you’re not blocking traffic, you can stand on the street corner and preach to your heart’s content.

              But the banners are “part of the show” put on by the public school.  I think a player getting on one knee to celebrate a TD might be a gray area for some, but I would defend that right.

              I didn’t watch much Olympics this year, but aren’t there American athletes that, while representing their country, cross themselves and thank God?  Not a problem.  I think it’s obvious to objective observers that’s the individual athlete’s own personal expression.  They may be wearing a cross, but their official Olympic (made in China of course) uniform doesn’t have religious symbols on it.

              I can’t speak for every individual atheist, or establishment clause supporting theist, but from everything I’ve ever read from FFRF, AU and ACLU, I think to them, in this context, ‘public’ means government endorsed. Nothing to do with ‘public view’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

      Sorry, they don’t have a legal leg to stand on. See Sante Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The reason why they are in any position to be holding such a banner on the football field during a game is by dint of their membership on the school’s football team or cheerleading squad. They are displaying these banners in a manner that gives the impression, no matter how tacit, of school approval and is illegal.

      On the other hand, audience members can bring all the Bible signs they like, or cheerleaders/football players can have Bibles or inspirational signs in the “dugout” (yes I know that’s a baseball term). 

      • Rwlawoffice

         I disagree.  This is no different than a football player making the sign of the cross before a kickoff or kneeling in prayer after a touchdown.  He would be doing that on the field by virtue of his position as a football player but the school could not prevent it. Now, if the couch led the prayer or if the cheerleading sponsor was involved in picking the verses it would be different.  Then the faculty would be involved  and would probably run afoul of the law.  But students even if they are representing the school cannot have their religious liberties curtailed.  They are still students.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

          By working in tandem in holding the banner and making it part of the game’s ceremonies, it has the mark of being part of the football game, just as the student-led prayers over the intercom in the Sante Fe case.

          An unobtrusive gesture by a single student would not give the same impression.

        • Alex

          The difference is that those games are not funded by tax payer’s money. This is a PUBLIC school. The money I put into taxes should not be used (directly or indirectly) to promote a religious (or non religious) group.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

            Establishment Clause violations are not necessarily triggered by the use of taxpayer dollars. For example, a 10 Commandments monument on government property donated by a private party can still be ruled unconstitutional.

        • Kountze Liberal

          One of the coaches preaches to the team before the games. the cheerleader that started all this even admitted that is whereshe got her “inspiration”. Also, if it were an individual it would not be a problem- but because it is the entire TEAM, the school appears to be endorsing religious. these banners have never had a religious slant to them before this year- why is it so hard for them to return to being secular like before?

  • Aaron Dartez

    Im disgusted that you people sit here and talk bad about young girls trying to share the word of god and promote their religion, just because they are trying to take a stand and fight for what they believe in when you arent brave enough to do anything like this doesnt give you the right to criticize them, i pray god forgives each and every one of you, you will need it.

    • Annie

       Why do they need to “take a stand and fight for what they believe in?”  No one  is saying they can’t believe whatever myth story they choose.  They do not have to take a stand to go to church, to pray any time they feel the need or desire, or to attend any church of their choice.  They are not fighting for what they believe in, but rather pushing their religion in a public school, which is not allowed in this country.  How many times must Christians be dragged into court before they understand the secular nature of our public schools?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Bravery isn’t standing up for something the vast majority of your community agrees with.  Bravery is standing up for something in spite of your community telling you to leave or that you’ll burn in hell.

    • Alex

      They are doing it using taxpayer’s money that was meant to be spent on education, not on promoting a theist agenda. 

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        The dollars and cents isn’t actually the direct issue.  A private donor could pay for the banners, and even the uniforms, but it would still carry the implicit endorsement of the public school.  The Cranston West banner that was removed, and all of the ’10 Commencements  monuments have been donated.

        • Alex

          I understand and agree it’s not the direct issue, but it is an issue as well which, to me, adds to the pile.

    • Drew M.

      I’m disgusted by your smug glee at the thought of us being judged harshly by your sky fairy.

    • Maleekwa

      Nonsense. Pretend that a few Muslim cheerleaders wanted to display banners with verses from th Quran on them. How well would they be received by you? Might that make you better understand the separation of church and state?

      As soon as people like you get public places Christianified, there’s nothing that will stop all the other mythologies from being presented as well. The wisest conservative lawmakers realize this, and so did the framers, regardless of what you have been fed from your pulpit.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    CBS coverage after last night’s game (which Kountze lost) http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7424552n&tag=cbsnewsHardNewsFDArea%3Bfdmodule


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