“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” This is the sinful message that got some Texas cheerleaders in trouble. In fact, with the help of their lawyers, they’ve been fighting the case for nearly 6 years.
It all began in 2012 when the cheerleaders wanted to paint Bible verses on the banners that the football team runs through at the beginning of a high school football game.
The lawyers are fighting a freedom of speech case and many in the Texas community says the school district needs to resolve the issue once and for all.
Kountze, Texas is in East Texas, definitely in the heart of Bible Belt country. Lawyers from the firm of First Liberty say these cheerleaders have every right to make banners containing Bible verses, and that the Kountze Independent School District needs to let them do it.
But the school district declared it plans to file yet another appeal with the state Supreme Court, yet the school hasn’t gotten around to completing the paperwork yet.
The Ninth Court of Appeals already ruled in 2017 that the cheerleaders do have a right to religious speech. Furthermore, the school district did not pay for the banners or the materials to make the signs; since the cheerleaders purchased them with their own money, the court said they have even more of a right to free speech. The official court ruling was that banners of this nature are a form of protected private speech.
So why is the school district dragging this on and making it harder than it needs to be? The district has filed appeal after appeal. To put it in perspective, the original 2012 cheerleaders have long since graduated high school and probably college!
First Liberty says he hopes the Texas Supreme Court will just rule and bring an end to the nonsense. The state court could just rule, and not even make the cheerleaders respond to the appeal or appear in court.
In Texas, the legal precedent has already been made since multiple courts in the state have already ruled that the banners reflect the cheerleaders’ speech and not the school’s opinion. They say it’s constitutional—Texas and United States.
But the stubborn school just won’t back down, insisting that as a mighty school district, they have the power and authority to control their students’ speech. The school district appears to know better than the courts; they say a decision to allow Bible verses opens a Pandora’s box and will lead cheerleaders to “display a Confederate flag or drug paraphernalia.”
The Texas court already said that a reasonable observer of the signs would not interpret them as “government speech” representing the school district, but the school district said the Texas courts were wrong to draw that conclusion.
The posters have been big news in the area. The nearby Beaumont Enterprise newspaper reported that the school district steadfastly opposes the posters because the banners are created by members of an official school organization, and they’re displayed at a school-sponsored event on school property.
Therefore, the district says a reasonable person would interpret the banners as school-sponsored. And they just can’t have that!
In 2012, the Kountze cheerleaders’ parents (seven of them) sued the district after school officials stopped the Bible verse banners. And it’s been going on for years, with the district attempting several legal maneuvers to control free speech.
They even tried to get the case thrown out of court when the cheerleaders had graduated!
The premise of the cheerleaders’ case was simple, and the Texas courts agreed with them. The school district had always allowed cheerleaders to select the message each week for the banners.
Therefore, because the messages are student-selected, they are deemed as being pure private speech and therefore protected under the Texas and U.S. constitutions’ guarantee of free speech. Period.
Even United States Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Texas Republicans, filed their own brief supporting the cheerleaders’ stance. And as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Cornyn knows of what he speaks. For the record, he also was attorney general of Texas and served on the Texas Supreme Court, AND was a former district judge.
Cornyn even handled a similar case for the state of Texas, against the Santa Fe Independent School District (on the Texas Gulf Coast near Galveston), in which the district tried to similarly silence student messages.
Ted Cruz is well known in Texas as a former 2016 presidential candidate and former solicitor general of Texas. Cruz has represented the Lone Star state in several religious liberty cases.