FFRF files amicus brief in Texas prayer banner case

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Kountze Independent School District, Kountze, Texas, which had ordered cheerleaders to stop holding Christian prayer banners for football players to run through while entering the stadium.

A typical banner read, “But thanks be to God, which gives us Victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:57.”

FFRF’s local counsel, Randall L. Kallinen, Houston, filed the brief in Hardin County District Court.

FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt’s Sept. 17 letter to Superintendent Kevin Weldon led to a decision to stop the banner practice. The Liberty Institute, a Religious Right law firm, then got a temporary restraining order against the district, which has also hired a law firm to defend itself.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has inappropriately weighed in on the case with a Sept. 27 letter to the school district, calling FFRF “menacing and misleading” for its objection to inappropriate religious promotion by cheerleaders at school events.

In its brief, FFRF takes issue with the plaintiffs’ claim that the banners are an exercise of free speech and ask for denial of a temporary injunction: “The speech in question is government speech or, at a minimum, school-sponsored speech.”

The plaintiffs, including parents of students, seek an order that the district must “cease and desist from preventing the cheerleaders … from displaying banners or run-throughs at sporting events and/or censoring the sentiments expressed thereon.”

FFRF asserts that such “broad language severely limits the ability of school administrators to lawfully regulate school activities. KISD is under no obligation to allow anyone to display run-through banners as part of festivities at sporting events.”

“If the majority of the cheerleaders were atheists, would a court support their ‘right’ to hold up a banner insulting Christianity or all believers? The District has every right to simply prohibit all run-through and on-field banners.”

FFRF contends that the banners are government speech because they are displayed in a context implying school endorsement and because the school has effective control over the messages. The Kountz message is “delivered to a large audience assembled as part of a regularly scheduled, school-sponsored function conducted on school property.”

The brief also notes the distinction between government speech and school-sponsored speech and cites relevant cases.

“Cheerleading for the school is undeniably a school-sponsored activity and the banners displayed by the cheerleaders take place during a school-sponsored event.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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