Judge: Bible Verses Can Remain for Now

Trial set for June on Bible verses controversy

By Chris Tomlinson
|  Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014  |  Updated 12:24 PM CDT
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A Texas public high school cheerleading squad can keep emblazoning Bible verses on banners to cheer on football players at games, at least for now, a judge ruled Thursday. The school district had barred the cheerleaders from using the slogans on their banners after a Wisconsin atheist group complained, saying they violated First Amendment rights, but the Texas court issued a temporary injunction on Thursday to prevent that ban from going into effect before trial comes in June. The Kountze High School cheerleaders had gotten the support of the Texas Attorney General in their battle over the banners, which they argued were the result of a student-led initiative and therefore didn't violate others' right to freedom from religion. A lawyer for the school, however, said that although the banners were an innocent idea, they represented the school and thus had to be considered government speech.

Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News

A Texas public high school cheerleading squad can keep emblazoning Bible verses on banners to cheer on football players at games, at least for now, a judge ruled Thursday. The school district had barred the cheerleaders from using the slogans on their banners after a Wisconsin atheist group complained, saying they violated First Amendment rights, but the Texas court issued a temporary injunction on Thursday to prevent that ban from going into effect before trial comes in June. The Kountze High School cheerleaders had gotten the support of the Texas Attorney General in their battle over the banners, which they argued were the result of a student-led initiative and therefore didn't violate others' right to freedom from religion. A lawyer for the school, however, said that although the banners were an innocent idea, they represented the school and thus had to be considered government speech.

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A Texas district judge ruled cheerleaders at Kountze High School can continue to display Bible verses at high school football games under a temporary restraining order pending trial in June.

The courtroom was filled with cheerleaders, parents and supporters as the judge announced the ruling.

The Kountze Lions play the Newton Eagles at home on Friday night. The cheerleaders say they already have their banners, complete with Bible verses, ready for the game.

The cheerleaders at Kountze High School sued the district after officials said they could no longer use scripture on banners, such as, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

The district banned the use of religious messages after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation complained. The group says the messages violated the First Amendment prohibition on government establishing a religion.

State District Judge Steve Thomas issued an injunction allowing the cheerleaders to continue using Bible verses until he made a decision.

The hearing started at 8 a.m. this morning at the Hardin County Courthouse.

A representative from the Texas Attorney General's office was in court Thursday morning to intercede on the students' behalf.

The attorney representing the cheerleaders requested an injunction to protect religious expression and free speech on the banners.

The school attorney said while the banners are wholesome and an innocent idea, the cheerleaders banners represent the school and therefore are considered government speech, not individual speech and so the school cannot endorse it.

The cheerleaders' attorney said there's no evidence of government speech, because the banners are an entirely student led idea.

Kountze has a record of 5-1-0 going into the tough match-up against undefeated Newton Friday night.

NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff contributed to this report. He is in the courtroom, follow him on Twitter @KenKalthoffNBC5 for the latest updates.

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