Judge rules for cheerleaders

Cheerleaders for Kountze High School in east Texas have been granted an injunction allowing them to display religious-themed banners during football games.

AUSTIN, Texas — A judge stopped an east Texas school district on Thursday from barring cheerleaders from quoting biblical scripture on banners at high school football games, saying the policy appears to violate their rights of free speech.

District Judge Steve Thomas granted an injunction requested by the Kountze High School cheerleaders allowing them to continue displaying religious-themed banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit set to go to trial next June, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

Thomas previously granted a temporary restraining order allowing the practice to continue.

School officials barred the cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious messages such as, “If God is for us, who can be against us,” after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.

The advocacy group said the messages violate the First Amendment clause barring the government — or a publicly funded school district, in this case — from establishing or endorsing a religion.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott spoke out in support of the cheerleaders Wednesday. Perry appointed Thomas to fill a vacancy on the 356th District Court, and he is running for election to continue in the post as a Republican.

Abbott also filed court papers to intervene in the lawsuit and sent state attorneys to support the cheerleaders’ position that the district’s ban violated their free-speech rights. The Texas Education Code also states that schools must respect the rights of students to express their religious beliefs.