Christianity apparently is the official school religion in Kountze, Texas, after a misguided decision in early May by a state judge that lets public school cheerleaders display Christian bible verses and messages during high school football games.
So contends the Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose letter in September 2012 challenging the religious banners set off the legal controversy in the Kountze Independent School District.
In response to FFRF’s letter, the district superintendent properly ordered cheerleaders to stop holding Christian prayer banners for football players to run through. The cheerleaders, represented by a Religious Right law firm, then sued the school district.
FFRF was not a party to the lawsuit, but filed a friend of the court brief. If students, faculty or parents subjected to future proselytizing come forward, FFRF would like to challenge the religious banners in federal court.
The four-paragraph decision by Judge Steven Thomas, 356th Judicial District, does not cite a single case, law or constitutional precedent.
“It’s impossible to imagine a judge approving cheerleader messages saying, ‘Atheists rule — God is dead’ or ‘Allah is supreme — pray to him for victory,’ ” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
“Kountze High School is not a Christian high school, Kountze is not a Christian city, Texas is not a Christian state, and the United States is not a Christian nation,” Gaylor added.
Proselytizing messages by cheerleaders given a unique podium, representing the school, wearing the school uniform, at the official start of a public school football game, inevitably carry the appearance of school endorsement and favoritism, turning Christians into insiders, and non-Christians and nonbelievers into outsiders. It’s quite different than students who hold up signs from the bleachers.
“It’s not only a violation of the law, it’s a violation of good manners,” Gaylor said.
“There was not even a bona fide case or controversy before the court concerning a violation under the Establishment Clause,” commented FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
“Both parties — the school district and the cheerleaders’ attorneys — asked the court to issue an order allowing the display of Christian banners to continue. The lawsuit ought to have been dismissed because there was no case or controversy: both parties sought to display the religious banners.”
Under a new school board policy, and in briefs to the court, Kountze ISD made clear that the banners are under district control and are “government speech.” The district also expressed that it would like to see the religious banners continue to be displayed.