Judge Temporarily Rules in Favor of Bible-Promoting Cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas

After a month-long battle over whether cheerleaders at Kountze High School in Texas could hold up run-through banners with Bible verses at football games, a battle in which the state’s Attorney General got involved, a judge has finally — and unfortunately — ruled in their favor… at least for now:

A judge stopped an East Texas school district on Thursday from barring cheerleaders from quoting biblical scripture on banners at high school football games, acknowledging their argument that is appears to violate their free speech rights.

District Judge Steve Thomas granted an injunction requested by the Kountze High School cheerleaders allowing them to continue displaying such banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit set to go to trial next June 24, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Thomas previously granted a temporary restraining order allowing the practice to continue.

So the case hasn’t technically been decided yet, but the cheerleaders will get to use Bible verses on their banners for the remainder of the football season.

What a boneheaded move by the judge to allow this to continue. But the lawsuit has yet to give us a more permanent resolution.

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.

  • Verimius

    I think the judge intended to drag this out so they could use their banners for the rest of the current season. The issue has yet to be properly litigated and whoever wins, it will go on to higher courts.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

    Living in Hardin county, I’m concerned that they’ll be unable to find an impartial jury for this case. 

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

    These matters are not determined by a jury.

  • Joshua Holmes

    Who is in charge of the banners?  Is it the Cheerleaders or a Cheerleading coach or a teacher?  If it’s the Cheerleaders then I don’t see what the problem is.  True that schools don’t have the right to endorse specific religions, but as long as the banners are completely run by the students then it should be covered under their right to free speech.  

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

    Keep in mind that this is not a ruling “on the merits.” The judge has not ruled whether or not the banners are constitutional. All he is doing is allowing the status quo to continue until the case has been argued and a final decision issued.

  • Gus Snarp

    IANAL, but…..

    This seems like such a no-brainer, but anything can happen with a district court judge in Texas. An appeal to the Supreme Court, or probably any Federal court, would very likely result in a different ruling altogether. But I realized something in reading this article: as far as I can tell, the cheerleaders are suing the school district for blocking the practice, there’s no one suing to stop the cheerleaders. That changes the nature of the case a bit, but I still think precedent is on the side of the school district here. They certainly have the right to restrict the speech of the cheerleaders while in uniform at a school event and representing the school. But the case law is quite different from a suit to stop the practice.

    There’s also the question of appeals. There may be a limit as to how far the district is willing to appeal (keeping in mind that this is still a temporary injunction and the actual case has yet to be tried at all) if they lose. If the school district were to lose the case, they would face a decision about how much money to spend appealing it. There are two reasons for a district to pursue this case, as I see it:

    1. To cover their legal bases and protect themselves in case of a lawsuit against the practice by a student in the future. In this case, having taken it to court once, they would at least have done due diligence and might just drop the case at that point.

    2. To ensure their continued authority to police students representing their schools, in which case they might appeal, but also might not depending on cost.

    3. I know, I said two, but I thought of a third: they might just be doing it on principle, because it’s the right thing to do, in which case, more power to them, but how much will they be willing to spend on this principle?

    But I found this argument in the article interesting:  “It is not just one girl or one person in the group that comes up with the quote, but it’s on a rotating basis that each girl gets to pick the quote. That is their individual voices that are being portrayed on the banner.” I don’t buy it, students still don’t get to just put up whatever banner they want at a school sponsored event, particularly in uniform. In fact, that argument might apply (still wrong though) in a case where students were suing to stop the practice, but in this case the argument has no application at all. All that really matters is whether the district can control student speech, particularly in the specific circumstances involved here, and the precedent seems clear that they can.

    Oh, and Governor Rick Perry said this: “We’re also a culture built on the concept that the original law is God’s law, outlined in the Ten Commandments.” How does a guy like this get to run one of the largest states in the Union?

  • Gus Snarp

    Because they’re in school uniforms at a school sponsored event with a special role in which they are granted an opportunity to make this speech and this gives the very strong impression of endorsement of religion by the school. They’re not just a group of students spontaneously holding up a banner in the stands, which would be perfectly acceptable, they’re representing the school.

    But the district really only has to show that they have an interest in blocking this speech in order to protect the rights of other students, if that much, to win the case, ultimately.

  • Edmond

    It seems to me that anything happening within the school stadium, at an event arranged and sponsored by the school, cannot endorse religion.  These students did not simply decide to throw an impromptu football game of their own accord.  The other students and community members present have not gathered together in a church, or to receive spiritual guidance.  In this capacity, even the cheerleaders are representatives of the school, and that’s what they need to represent.  Not their religion, not their personal beliefs, but school business.  The banners need to depict whose butts they’re going to kick on the field, not whose god needs the most aggrandizing.

  • MartinRC

    As long as the cheerleaders are acting as school officials during the game “team cheerleaders” than they can’t do whatever they please, even if they run it.  If they are in the stands as guests, and not official school mascots, than they have every tight to hold signs because they aren’t representing the public school anymore.

  • A3Kr0n

    I already got a reply to an old comment of mine rubbing the “victory” in my face.

  • curtcameron

    Not really – the school’s superintendent had already forced the cheerleaders to quit with the Bible verses already, but the cheerleaders filed suit. The judge’s injunction was against the superintendent’s decision. Leaving it alone would have allowed the superintendent’s decision to stand.

  • Baal

    Even while this isn’t a final determination, there is little doubt in my mind that this judge will rule for the cheerleaders.  He’s dragged this out and has already gifted the pro-religion side the entire football season even though this is a legal open and shut case.

  • sfd4304

    I’m somewhat shocked that these cheerleaders started doing this in the first place.  I was a cheerleader at a very christian school (now I’m an atheist, go figure) and we NEVER did that.  The goal was to get people excited about the game not to preach at them.

  • Ed Palmatier

    Yeah sounds about right. If they made the signs on their own it is free speech.

  • Annie

    Does anyone know how long the practice of making “god banners” has been going on?  Not that it would change anything, I’m just curious.  It seems to me that Christians are getting pushier and pushier with their religion lately.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    I’m trying to figure out exactly how making banners with Bible verses on them and then using them for a ritual purpose, is not a form of idolatry. But it’s not coming to me. So I guess it is idolatry.

    But I don’t see how it could be the case. After all, Christians are forbidden to engage in idolatry. After all, that injunction is written inside the pages of the very Bible that they’re crafting into what are, effectively, “idols.” These Christians need to read Exodus 20:4, Leviticus 19:4, Deuteronomy 5:8, Psalms 97:7, Isaiah 45:16, Jeremiah 16:18, Ezekiel 36:18, Jonah 2:8, Acts 7:41-42, 1 Corinthians 10:7, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 John 5:21, Revelation 2:20 … among many others.

    Can it be that there are a bunch of Christians in Texas doing something their own God has forbidden them to do?

  • RobertoTheChi

    They’re representing the school, so it is not alright to hold up their banners of bullshit.

  • Gary B>

    I read in the Wall St. Journal that at tomorrow night’s game, the opposing team’s cheerleaders are also going to display a bible banner.  Unconstitutionality.  Now in stereo!

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

    True…and I misunderstood what the lawsuit was about. It’s not an Establishment Clause lawsuit but a Free Speech Clause lawsuit. Courts are usually sympathetic in the granting of preliminary injunctions in Free Speech Cases.

    I don’t see the cheerleader’s Free Speech claim going far in this. I think Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier will play a determining role in this case.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

     Thanks for the correction, Bill.

  • Deanna in NC

    It only takes one bible thumper to make this happen.  

  • kielc

    So…how do you pronounce the name of this town, anyway….? ;)

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    And when they have a very bad remaining season this will clearly show that they are worshiping the wrong god and must instead make human sacrifices to nike.

  • Deven Kale

     What we’re watching now, in my opinion, are the death-throes of a failed ideology. They realize they’re losing at the individual level: More and more people are leaving religion and not enough are coming back to make up for it. They’re now trying, in one final act of desperation, to force everybody into believing their way. By force if necessary.

  • Randy

    Can this not be appealed?  If you have followed the Prop 8 case, you know that the anti-marriage side appealed every tiny little thing.  We should be as thorough.

    We’re talking about a constitutional violation.  It’s pretty severe to permit a constitutional violation in an educational context to persist for an entire school year.

  • Cincinatheist

    If the student athletes in Texas need God’s help just to get onto the field, what would it require to get them to read a textbook?

  • amycas

     “How does a guy like this get to run one of the largest states in the Union?”

    In Texas, the governor really doesn’t have that much power. The governorship is more for building prestige and political grandstanding. The lt. governor actually has more power (of course, he’s not that much better).

  • http://gristleoflife.wordpress.com/ Analog Kid

    Texas…totally not surprised.  This comes down to a simple question and answer.  Is this a PUBLIC school?  Yes?  Then this case should be decided exactly the same as the Jessica Ahlquist case.

    P.S.  Thank you Mr. Mehta.   Keep up the good work.

  • Ed Palmatier

    No, not the same. The school is not making the banners and posting them on school property. If the cheerleaders made banners that said “Go team go” would that be banned? No, of course not.

    We can’t stop people from making stupid signs. Focus on something else.

  • romad20000

    The cheerleaders are an extension of the school,  and look here is texas case law to back that up…. http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/texas-cheerleader-who-refused-to-cheer-rapist-loses-in-court/

  • romad20000

    Cheerleaders do not have free speech says texas court http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/texas-cheerleader-who-refused-to-cheer-rapist-loses-in-court/

  • Gus Snarp

    The problem is that, as far as I can tell, the school district is the defendant and the cheerleaders are the plaintiffs in the case. So the school district can appeal, but are they going to bother? But still, we’re not at that point yet. This is a preliminary injunction, the actual case has yet to be heard. I don’t think you really can appeal an injunction like that before the real case has been heard. If they lose the case, then they can appeal.

    Fortunately, if you’ve seen the new post on this, the FFRF is looking for plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the practice, which would mean an entity more willing to appeal and fight to the end is involve. Also, the filing of that lawsuit could actually be used by the school district in their case to show why they need to be able to prevent the cheerleaders from using their position to espouse a religious belief.

  • rupi capra

     The judge was right. These arguments against the cheerleaders right to free speech sound very weak. I’ve never thought of cheerleaders as school officials. Is the uniform the issue? Do people in uniforms not have free speech? In some schools the entire student body has to wear uniforms. I’ve followed that link that says cheerleaders are school officials; it leads to a court deciding a cheerleader had to cheer her rapist. Is this the example you think should be followed?

  • Coyotenose

     Displaying them as part of a school function, as representatives of that school, is not a free speech issue, but an Establishment one.

  • sunburned

     Is there any doubt that the cheerleaders and football team represent their respective schools?

  • romad20000

    why not? cheerleaders in school uniform are an extension of the school, the ruling is very clear in that regard, in fact it goes far enough to say that saying otherwise is “frivolous”. Military members are not allowed to attend Klan rally’s in uniform (even to protest the Klan). People who work for certain federal agencies are not allowed to endorse certain candidates for office (even FB “likes” can count as an endorsement). If the judges allow that cheerleaders have “free speech” then a cheerleader could choose not to wear the uniform, or could choose not to participate in certain cheers. The Texas judges ruled correctly in the rape case (as horrible as that sounds) and will probably rule the same way in this case (as it should be) .

  • Ed Palmatier

    If that is indeed the case, then an argument could be made against them promoting religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/oliver.pintar.5 Oliver Pintar

    16 You shall consume all the people, which the Lord your God will deliver to you. Your eye shall not spare them, neither shall you serve theirgods, lest they be your ruin.

    22 He will consume these nations in your sight by little and little and by degrees. You will not be able to destroy them altogether: lest perhaps the beasts of the earth should increase upon you.

    23 But the Lord your God shall deliver them in your sight: and shall slay them until they be utterly destroyed.

    29 When the Lord your God shall have destroyed before your face the nations, which you shall go in to possess, and when you shall possess them, and dwell in their land:

    hen the Lord your God has destroyed the nations, whose land he will deliver to you, and you shall possess it, and shall dwell in the cities and houses thereof:

    12 And the people shall be as ashes after a fire, as a bundle of thorns they shall be burnt with fire.

    6 The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made thick with the blood of lambs and buck goats, with the blood of rams full of marrow: for there is a victim of theLord in Bosra and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.

    Atheist 100%!!!