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Texas cheerleaders fight for biblical banners at football games

A Texas school district's ban of Christian "run-through" banners at football games angers students. KBMT's Augustin Garfias reports.

A group of Texas high school cheerleaders is at the center of a spat over religious speech after the school district told them they had to stop using Christian-themed banners at school football games.

The large signs, carried onto the field at Kountze High School, included messages such as "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" and "But thanks be to God which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," according to a report by NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

Kevin Weldon, superintendent of the Kountze school district, about 85 miles northeast of Houston, informed the cheerleaders’ parents Tuesday that the religious banners would not be allowed, the station reported.

Weldon's decision set off a tempest in the community of about 2,100, but he told the Houston Chronicle that it was based on 2001 Supreme Court decision that keeps religion out of public schools.

"The decision I made is not my personal opinion," Weldon told the Chronicle earlier this week. "I'm a Christian. This puts me between a rock and a hard place."

Weldon reportedly made the decision after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that advocates separation of church and state, the Christian Post reported.


Beaumont Enterprise via AP

Kountze High School cheerleaders and other children work on a large sign Wednesday in Kountze, Texas.

But the cheerleaders scored a partial victory on Thursday, when a judge granted a temporary restraining order on enforcement of the ban after parents of the cheerleaders filed a discrimination suit earlier in the week, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Under the injunction, the cheerleaders will be allowed to use the Biblical banners at games at least until an Oct. 4 hearing.

The nonprofit Liberty Institute, which is representing the cheerleaders' parents, argues that it is unconstitutional to censor religious speech in this manner, the Post said.

The Texas Association of School Boards would not discuss its confidential conversations with Weldon, who had sought the organization's advice prior to banning the religious banners, but issued a statement on the case:

"The federal court guidance... draws a distinction between private student speech, including written messages, which enjoys free speech protection under the First Amendment, and school-sponsored speech, which must conform to the Establishment Clause by not endorsing, coercing, or favoring religion,” Joy Baskin, the association's director of legal services, said in the statement.

"Whether the display of a religious message by cheerleaders on the field at a high school football game constituted private or school-sponsored speech depends on a number of factors which must be weighed by the district, its counsel, and in this instance, the judge considering the case," Baskin said.

Cheerleader Macy Matthews, 15, argued that no school money was used and the signs weren't made on school property, so they should be allowed. She said she didn't anticipate the ban.

"It was upsetting because it's what motivated the boys each week," Matthews told the Chronicle. "I was shocked, really. I didn't understand why it would be a problem."

A Facebook page promoting the cheerleaders' cause had garnered more than 39,000 members by Friday.

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