The Brief: Top Texas News for Oct. 18, 2012

The Big Conversation:

The state of Texas, known for its frequent legal scuffles with the federal government, has picked yet another high-profile courtroom fight.

This time, though, the case centers on one of the state's own school districts, Kountze ISD, which last month ordered high school cheerleaders to stop holding banners bearing Bible verses during football games.

Attorney General Greg Abbott announced Wednesday at a press conference with Gov. Rick Perry that the state had filed a motion to intervene in a suit challenging the order, which the district imposed after it received a letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation calling the display of the verses unconstitutional.

"We will not allow atheist groups from outside of the state of Texas to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics to try to bully schools to bow down at the altar of secular beliefs," Abbott said Wednesday. 

The Liberty Institute, a Plano-based conservative legal group, has filed suit on behalf of the cheerleaders against the district, which banned the signs after consulting with lawyers about the letter. A judge has since been granted temporary permission to display the banners, but a legal fight continues over whether the girls were representing the school while holding the signs.

As the Tribune's Morgan Smith writes, the case has effectively pitted the district's lawyers, who point to a 2000 Supreme Court case that barred student-led prayer over loudspeakers, against Abbott, who has called the effort to remove the signs politically motivated.

"The backdrop is that the Kountze battle is part of a larger war that we are defending against outside atheist groups trying to bully and steamroll school districts," Abbott recently told the Tribune.

Perry echoed Abbott's remarks on Wednesday. "Underlying problem here is that there is a very vocal and very litigious minority of Americans who are willing to legally attack anyone who dares to utter a phrase or a name that they don’t agree with," he said. "These students, or anyone for that matter who is expressing their faith, they should be celebrated, in this day and age of instant gratification and 'me-first' culture."

Hear Tribune reporters discuss the case on this week's TribCast.

Culled:

  • It's cringe-inducing, as the Tribune's Ross Ramsey puts it, but if Democrats want to hang on to the seat held by state Sen. Mario Gallegos — who died Tuesday — Harris County voters will have to elect the late Houston legislator one last time. Because it's too late to replace Gallegos on the ballot, residents of his heavily Democratic district will still be able to vote for him. A Gallegos victory would trigger a special election, unless the Republican on the ballot, Rasuali Bray, wins in November. (A memorial for Gallegos, who died of complications related to a 2007 liver transplant, will be held at the Capitol on Friday.)
  • Former Vice President Dick Cheney will raise money for Mitt Romney in Texas next week, the Tribune's Jay Root reports. Cheney will attend high-dollar events on Oct. 25 in Austin and Dallas with Romney's son Josh. Romney has raised more than $20 million from Texans, compared with President Barack Obama's $14 million.
  • Political observers say rising Democratic star Julián Castro is several years away from running for statewide office, but one prominent supporter of the San Antonio mayor thinks he'll be ready in two years. Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina has launched a website and social media campaign to draft Castro to run for governor in 2014. "There are a lot of people that will tell the mayor that it's not the right timing," Medina told the San Antonio Express-News. "What we're saying is: ‘We'll create the timing.'"

"People of the state of Texas, and people around the world, have to decide whether or not Lance Armstrong is still a hero to them." — Gov. Rick Perry on cyclist Lance Armstrong's decision to step down as chairman of his cancer foundation in light of the recent doping scandal

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