Sep 06, 2013

A Texas public school may curb cheerleaders from displaying large banners bearing Bible verses during football games, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a coalition of religious and public policy groups have advised a state court.

The groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief yesterday in Kountze Independent School District v. Matthews. The legal challenge concerns cheerleaders at Kountze High School who had been using banners with Bible verses to motivate the football team during games. School administrators, however, received an anonymous complaint and ordered the practice stopped in September 2012.   

Examples of signs included: “But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” and “If God be for us who can be against us?”

After the school ordered them to stop displaying the banners, the cheerleaders filed a lawsuit before the Hardin County District Court, which ruled that the signs were constitutional. The case is now on appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in Beaumont.

“Students have the right to take part in school activities without being pressured to participate in religious exercises,” said Gregory M. Lipper, AU senior litigation counsel. “And the school has an obligation to protect the religious freedom of all of its students – not just those in the majority."

The brief, drafted by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, argues that cheerleading is a school-sponsored activity and thus education officials have the right – and indeed the duty – to ensure that no students are coerced to take part in any religious exercise.

“To protect students from undue influence in religious matters, prevent the imposition of majority beliefs on students of minority faiths, and preserve the unique role our schools play in educating future citizens, it is imperative that school officials absolutely avoid religious indoctrination, including the promotion of religious beliefs,” asserts the brief. “Religious education must remain the province of students, families, and faith communities – not the government.”

The brief was written by Rebecca L. Robertson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and national ACLU attorneys Daniel Mach, Heather Weaver and Jennifer Lee. AU’s Lipper provided input.

Other organizations signing the brief include: the Anti-Defamation League; the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Muslim Advocates; the Union for Reform Judaism; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America; the Hindu American Foundation and the Sikh Coalition.