RELIGION

Judge Allows Kountze High School Cheerleaders To Use Bible Banners

The cheerleaders of Kountze Middle School use their faith-based signs at the middle school football game held at Kountze High
The cheerleaders of Kountze Middle School use their faith-based signs at the middle school football game held at Kountze High School on Thursday, September 20, 2012 in Kountze, Texas. For three straight weeks, high school football players in a small southeast Texas town took the field by bolting through large red-and-white banners that hollered the praises of Jesus Christ. But someone complained to a foundation that fights for the separation of church and state, and by Tuesday, a day after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the superintendent banned the banners, and the town became embroiled in a controversy that has touched other communities nationwide. On Thursday, a judge granted a request by the nonprofit Liberty Institute law firm to temporarily bar the implementation of the ban. It also set a hearing for early October when the sides will be able to make their arguments. The cheerleaders planned to raise their 20-foot banners at Thursday evening's junior varsity football game. (AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Randy Edwards) MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES, MAGS OUT, TV OUT, AP MEMBERS ONLY

(RNS) Texas cheerleaders can continue to use banners with Bible verses after a court granted them a temporary restraining order against their school district.

A judge in Hardin County, Texas, issued the order on Thursday (Sept. 20) after parents filed suit on behalf of the cheerleaders. It orders the Kountze Independent School District to "cease and desist" from preventing high school cheerleaders from displaying the large paper banners, through which football players ran at the start of games.

A hearing on the case has been set for Oct. 4.

A lawyer from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the district saying the cheerleaders' tradition was "inappropriate and unconstitutional."

Superintendent Kevin Weldon had stopped the use of the banners after consulting with a legal adviser at the Texas Association of School Boards.

Liberty Institute, which is representing cheerleaders and parents in the case, hailed the judge's decision.

"We are excited that the cheerleaders for the Kountze High School Lions can again do what they do best -- cheer on their football team without government censorship," said Mike Johnson, senior counsel for the Texas-based Liberty Institute.

Although Weldon has said he supports the cheerleaders' stance, he was advised that legal precedent was not in their favor.

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that student-led and student-initiated prayers conducted over a loudspeaker during football games were unconstitutional because they implied school sponsorship of the prayers.

Nine years later, cheerleaders at a Georgia high school who held nearly identical signs to those used in Kountze were also forced to stop by school officials who referred to the Santa Fe case.

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