Texas Supreme Court Rules Kountze Cheerleaders can keep Bible Verse Banners
The Texas Supreme Court decision highlights the ongoing struggle for religious liberty in America’s public schools
(Austin, Texas) Liberty Institute– In an 8-0 decision on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a crucial decision in favorof the Kountze Cheerleaders, whose legal struggle began in 2012 when school officials opposed their right to paint Bible verses on sports banners.
The Supreme Court overturned a 2014 Texas court of appeals decision that had ruled the case “moot,” a decision which denied the cheerleaders the opportunity to defend their right to free speech and religious expression. The Justices ordered the Beaumont Court of Appeals to reconsider the case.
“This is an 8-0 victory for the free speech and religious liberty rights of all Texas students,” says Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute. “We are delighted that the court considered this case so straightforward that it did not even require oral argument.”
“In light of today’s Supreme Court ruling,” he added, “we look forward to defending the Kountze cheerleaders at the Court of Appeals and resolving this case permanently in the cheerleaders’ favor”
The Court’s decision on Friday followed extensive briefing by Liberty Institute and its volunteer attorneys James Ho and Prerak Shah of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP (who are serving as lead appellate counsel) and amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in October 2015, and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornynin December 2015.
Justice Eva Guzman’s concurring opinion in favor of the Kountze cheerleaders accurately highlights the continuing struggle for religious liberty in America’s public schools. Justice Guzman agreed with Liberty Institute’s brief, and cited key free speech decisions—including landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions and past victories by Liberty Institute—that apply to the Kountze cheerleaders and make their situation a critical matter deserving special attention.
POSITIVE BIBLE VERSES BANNED FROM SCHOOL GROUNDS
In 2012, middle school and high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, decided to paint positive and inspirational messages on run-through banners at football games. The decision to use Bible verses was made by the entire cheer squad and the students themselves. The cheerleaders and their families purchased all materials.
But after receiving a complaint letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Kountze ISD superintendent banned the religious messages.
Supported by their parents and the community, the cheerleaders decided to fight for their free speech and religious liberty rights. That’s when the case exploded into the limelight, garnering nation-wide attention.
In September 2012, Liberty Institute and Beaumont attorney David Starnes filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders and their parents, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and temporary injunction to prohibit government school officials from censoring the cheerleaders’ religious speech.
The judge granted the TRO (and later a temporary injunction), allowing the cheerleaders to continue using the signs for the remainder of the 2012 football season.
In May 2013, Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas granted the cheerleaders final judgment finding that the banners are “constitutionally permissible.”
But Kountze ISD appealed the District Court’s decision to the Texas Court of Appeals in Beaumont, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped in to file a brief against the cheerleaders. In May 2014, the Beaumont Court of Appeals said that because Kountze ISD now stated it would allow the banners, the case was moot. The court of appeals’ decision, however, left unresolved the claim by the Kountze ISD that the cheerleaders’ banners were government speech subject to school censorship or an outright ban. On behalf of the cheerleaders, appellate lead counsel Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, David Starnes, and Liberty Institute sought a review of that decision from the Texas Supreme Court. The Court reversed the lower court’s decision without oral argument on January 26, 2016, sending the case back to the Beaumont Court of Appeals.
AT STAKE: STUDENTS’ FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN SCHOOL
As chronicled in Liberty Institute’s Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America, attacks against the religious free speech rights of students are escalating as more and more organizations send misinformation and legal threats to school officials.
But the law is on the side of religious freedom in schools. While the Texas Supreme Court ruling on Friday is a victory, the war for the permanent protection of the Kountze students’ rights is still ongoing. Liberty Institute vows to continue the fight on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders at the Court of Appeals and beyond, if necessary, and to protect freedom for future students nationwide.
To learn more about the religious rights of students and teachers in school, read or download Liberty Institute’s free Religious Liberty Protection Kit forStudents and Teachers.
Posted on January 30, 2016, in Church & State, Uncategorized and tagged Football, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Kelly Shackleford, Kountze Cheerleaders, Liberty Institute, ostTHIS, THE FOLLOWING STORYlIBERTY iNSTITUTEBERTlIBERTYBERTY itutetuteutete--. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.