A Texas school district is appealing a decision by a county judge upholding the right of cheerleaders to display Bible messages on run-through banners at football games.
In May, Hardin County Judge Steven Thomas ruled that the Bible messages are the private speech of the Kountze high school cheerleaders. Before the month was out, Kountze Independent School District – with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation – appealed that ruling.
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute, explains the school is appealing Judge Thomas's decision, claiming the cheerleaders' speech is not protected by the First Amendment because it's "government speech."
"It's the strangest thing I've ever seen, but they're claiming that the cheerleaders are a part of the government and they can control their speech, which is totally outrageous," says the attorney. "There's never been a case in this country that has ever held that."
The legal fight in the small Texas community has garnered national attention. Sasser says it is important to make sure that the school's appeal is soundly rejected by the court.
"It the school district is able to prevail here and overturn our win, it would be disastrous for religious speech all over the country," he concludes.
The controversy erupted in the fall of 2012 after the school received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, prompting the Kountze superintendent to ban the banners.