Religious liberty organization Liberty Institute, submitted further briefing this week to the Texas Supreme Court as part of a legal effort to protect the private speech of cheerleaders who showcase banners containing religious messages at their football games.
The cheerleaders, whose school is part of the Kountze Independent School District (KISD), were known for displaying banners with inspiring messages, including religious quotes such as, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” These banners drew criticism from organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU. The cheerleaders paid for their own materials to make the banners.
The case began in Sep. 2012 after the FFRF submitted a complaint to the school claiming that the Bible Scriptures printed on the run-though banners at Kountze High School football games violated constitutional law because they promoted religious speech. In response, school officials briefly censored the cheerleaders. The parents of the cheerleaders filed a suit on their behalf and won after District Judge Steve Thomas ruled that the speech on the banners was permissible.
The school district filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal to seek clarification on the ruling, but ultimately changed its policy in April 2013 to allow the religious messages.
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However, attorneys for the cheerleaders wanted to pursue a Supreme Court ruling to eliminate any chance of the school altering or reversing that decision in its policy. Liberty Institute drew attention to the fact that in the school’s appellate argument, the school claimed the right to “control the speech and retain the power to censor religious messages in the future.”
“The cheerleaders’ religious messaging on their run-through banners is private speech – not government speech, which is subject to censorship and banning – and it is protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution,” argued Liberty Institute.
The discussion around private speech has been contentious. KISD has claimed that the cheerleaders’ banners are government speech and thus subject to school censorship while Library Institute argues that cheerleaders’ speech is only possible through the district’s permission, not because of free speech rights.
“This case boils down to one uncontested, dispositive fact: KISD allows its cheerleaders to select the messages included on the run-through banners that they use to cheer on their classmates,” a brief from the legal team read. “…That is all that matters in this case: The students select the message, not the school.”
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After a two-year-long battle, the Texas Supreme will weigh in on the case and bring some finality to the situation.
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