A school district’s plan to take “Christ” away from its cheerleaders, censoring the football-game banners they bought, painted and created, has failed again, with the Texas Supreme Court declining even to hear the school’s arguments.
First Liberty confirmed the court’s ruling declined a demand from Kountze Independent School District to relitigate an earlier decision protecting the right of cheerleaders to have Bible verses on run-through banners.
The case dates back to 2012, when the school superintendent banned all religious banners from high-school football games.
The case has been up and down the court ladder several times, and three years ago, Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz joined the cheerleaders by filing a brief with the court on their behalf.
Hiram Sasser, First Liberty’s general counsel, said, “After more than five years of litigation, our clients are relieved that the Texas Supreme Court has brought an end to the school district’s scorched-earth litigation tactics.
“As the football season kicks off across Texas, it’s good to be reminded that these cheerleaders have a right to have religious speech on their run through banners – banners on which the cheerleaders painted messages they chose, with paint they paid for, on paper they purchased.
“School districts everywhere should learn an important lesson from this failed litigation by the Kountze Independent School District: stop harassing cheerleaders and accept that they are free to have religious speech on their run through banners,” he said.
Allyson Ho of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, LLP, and lead appellate counsel called it “a total victory that protects the religious liberty of students everywhere.”
“This decision by the Supreme Court of Texas should be the final word on this issue for students and schools across Texas,” she said.
Beaumont attorney and co-counsel for the cheerleaders David Starnes said no school district “should be able to censor, ban, or claim ownership of the private religious speech of its students.”
“Hopefully this will prevent Kountze ISD from spending another dollar on attorneys intent on filing yet another frivolous legal attack on cheerleaders,” he said.
The Dallas Morning News pointed out that the case has gone on for six years, but the ruling “could make the end.”
The fight erupted when school officials ordered the cheerleaders to censor any Bible verses on their banners. The cheerleaders sued and the district said it would allow the verses, but it still claimed the right to order the censorship.
Along the way, a trial judge agreed with the cheerleaders, but an intermediate appeals court said the case was moot since the district changed its mind. It ended up in the state Supreme Court, which sent it back to the appeals court, which sided with the cheerleaders.
Tom Brandt, the district’s attorney, suggested district officials were not willing to accept the outcome.
“I don’t think the case is completely over,” he warned.
WND has reported that throughout the case, the school has insisted it has the authority to control the cheerleaders’ speech.
The district has tried several maneuvers to assert its claim to control cheerleaders’ speech, including an announcement that it would allow the banners, but claim control of the speech, as well as an attempt to get rid of the case by arguing it was moot because most of the cheerleaders had graduated.
The Texas courts earlier found: “The cheerleaders contend that a single, dispositive fact controls the categorization of speech of the run-through banners: the school district allows the cheerleaders to select the message that is placed on the banners. … Because the students select the message each week and not the school, the statements on the run-through banners must be categorized as pure private speech of the cheerleaders.”