When you hear the words ‘public school,’ ‘scripture’ and ‘lawsuit,’ what usually comes to mind? Do you think that someone, a student or teacher, used a scripture verse on campus and the atheists are up in arms and running to the nearest court house to file a lawsuit? Does it bring to mind people praying at the beginning of a high school football game?
Regardless of the circumstances, it conjures images of someone screaming that there has been a violation of church and state and they can’t let that happen. But in the case of one Texas high school, the argument is different than what you would expect.
The cheerleaders at Kountze High School in Kountze, Texas, about 47 miles north of Port Arthur, have used scripture verses on the large banners that the football team runs through at the start of games. This time, it wasn’t the atheists that cried foul, but the school district cried foul and tried to stop the use of scripture verses on the run through banners. The issue ended up going to court and in May, Hardin County Judge Steve Thomas ruled that the cheerleaders had the right to display the Scripture verses since it was private speech. It was also made known that the Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott became involved in the case and supported the cheerleaders rights to use the verses.
The school district, along with the help of the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation, appealed the ruling and you’ll never guess what their argument was. They are claiming that the cheerleaders were part of the government and therefore their speech could be controlled by the district and Judge Thomas was wrong in declaring the banners private speech protected under the First Amendment.
Hiram Sasser, the attorney working with the cheerleaders, is the Director of Litigation with the Liberty Institute. He commented on the districts argument, saying:
“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, but they’re claiming that the cheerleaders are a part of the government and they can control their speech, which is totally outrageous. There’s never been a case in this country that has ever held that.”
“It the school district is able to prevail here and overturn our win, it would be disastrous for religious speech all over the country.”
Gaining national attention, this case will be watched carefully as it moves towards its next hearing. Hopefully, Abbott will once again get involved and help the appeal court rule in favor of the cheerleaders and protect the private speech of students. If the court rules in favor of the school district and determines that the cheerleaders are part of the government, then the cheerleaders should demand government pay and benefits. Perhaps if the schools have to start paying and providing benefits to their cheerleaders, the football, baseball, softball, track and field, cross country, basketball, swimming, diving, rodeo, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, volleyball, badminton, field hockey, archery, debate and any other teams, the band and anyone else representing the school, they’ll think twice about whether or not they are part of the government.
It will definitely be a case to follow.