A high school cheerleading squad suing for their right to wave religious banners at football games will be allowed to continue with their lawsuit, the Texas Supreme Court announced in a unanimous opinion Friday.
The East Texas students have been fighting for the ability to cite Bible verses as part of their cheerleading routines since 2012, when the Kountze Independent School District told the squad they could not paint Christian messages on the banners football players ran through before their games.
The district instituted the ban after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state, threatened to sue. Foundation members argued that because the Bible-quoting signs were held by cheerleaders wearing official school uniforms, and at official school events, they were tantamount to school-sponsored religious activities.
The ban didn’t put an end to the district’s legal woes — because the cheerleaders’ parents promptly filed a lawsuit of their own, claiming the ban violated their children’s right to free speech. The squad members came up with the banner ideas on their own, and bought the supplies with their own money, making it clear they were acting as individuals, the cheerleaders’ parents said.
The case has been making its way through the legal system ever since. In 2013, the Kountze district independently overturned its “no Bible messages” ban, but families of several cheerleaders kept pursuing the lawsuit anyway. Eventually, the 9th Texas Court of Appeals threw the case out, ruling that because the policy was no longer in effect, the lawsuit was moot.
On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court overruled the lower court's decision, writing that the lawsuit should be allowed to continue because the ban could “reasonably be expected” to be reinstated.
“The District no longer prohibits the cheerleaders from displaying religious signs or messages on banners at school-sponsored events,” Justice John Devine wrote in the opinion. “But that change hardly makes ‘absolutely clear’ that the District will not reverse itself after this litigation is concluded.”
"Religious liberty, deemed by our nation's founders as the 'First Freedom,' is the foundation upon which our society has been built," Paxton said in a statement Friday. "I'm pleased the Texas Supreme Court has ensured that the Kountze cheerleaders will be able to continue defending their right to express their faith — the most fundamental of American freedoms."
“Our Constitution has never demanded that students check their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door,” Abbott said in his role as Attorney General in 2013. “Students’ ability to express their religious views adds to the diversity of thought that has made this country so strong.”
Representatives from the Kountze Independent School District did not immediately return a request for comment.