Cheerleaders Win Free-Speech Victory

Texas high school cheerleaders scored a major victory for student free speech when the state Supreme Court agreed they have the right to put Bible verses on their football banners.

The cheer squad at Kountze High School had for years painted paper banners for their team to run through onto the field — 10-foot signs with encouraging scripture verses. Although the cheerleaders had made the banners during their personal time and with their own funds, the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected, and the district banned them.

So, the squad sued. It was a refreshing twist from the legal difficulties created by such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Humanist Association — often intimidating smaller districts into just complying and removing the last traces of Christianity from their schools. The popular film God’s Not Dead 2 dramatizes such a court case as well as the dilemma that Christians these days face in the schools.

In the movie, a student is offended when a teacher cites the Bible in history class. The teacher is forced to defend her career as well as her personal faith in dramatic courtroom testimony.

In the 8-0 ruling favoring the cheerleaders, the Texas Supreme Court rejected Kountze Independent School District’s claim that the case should be dismissed since officials had decided to allow the cheerleaders to use the Bible verses while retaining the right to censor speech in the future.

Attorney Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Institute representing the cheer squad, hailed the “victory for the free speech and religious liberty rights of all Texas students,” according to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “In light of today’s Supreme Court ruling, we hope the 9th Court of Appeals will resolve this case permanently in the cheerleaders’ favor.”

U.S. Senators John Cornyn, R-Ariz., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had filed a brief in support of the cheerleaders, who asked the Supreme Court to allow their legal challenge, arguing that without a court ruling or injunction, the school district was free to reinstate a 2012 policy barring “religious signs or messages at school sponsored events.”

The Supreme Court agreed, saying in a unanimous ruling that there is no assurance that the district would not reinstate the ban once the legal challenge ended.

“Throughout this litigation, the district has continually defended not only the constitutionality of that prohibition, but also its unfettered authority to restrict the content of the cheerleaders’ banners — including the apparent authority to do so based solely on their religious content,” said the opinion, written by Justice John Devine.

The win allows the cheerleaders to continue fighting for their right to free speech before the Court of Appeals. Such wins are increasingly rare, one reason for the popularity of “God’s Not Dead 2” in theaters this spring. It is the sequel to the blockbuster “God’s Not Dead.”

God’s Not Dead 2 comes to Blu-ray™ combo pack and DVD on August 16, 2016.