Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vows to fight for cheerleaders banned from using Bible verses on football banners. KXAN's Ignacio Garcia reports.
A judge ruled Thursday that a group of cheerleaders fighting for the right to display biblical-themed banners during high school football games in their small Texas community could continue to do so, at least until the battle goes to court next June.
The cheerleaders in Kountze prompted a complaint to the school district in September when they rolled out banners with scriptural references, 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."
A letter of complaint from the nonprofit Freedom from Religion Foundation prompted Kountze Independent School District Superintendent Keven Weldon to bar the religious banners.
The foundation argued that when the religious sentiments are displayed by cheerleaders in school uniforms before large groups of students at official school functions, the banners violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
"It is not a personal opinion of mine," Weldon told the Houston Chronicle after making his initial decision. "My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I'm also a state employee and Kountze (school district) representative. And I was advised that that such a practice (religious signs) would be in direct violation of United States Supreme Court decisions."
But parents and attorneys for the girls, supported by the nonprofit law firm, the Liberty Institute, filed a lawsuit arguing that the scriptural banners should be allowed as constitutionally guaranteed free speech. The judge granted a temporary injunction on enforcement of the ban.
On Thursday, District Judge Steve Thomas extended that injunction until a trial scheduled for June 24.
The cheerleaders gained heavyweight support Wednesday when Texas Governor Rick Perry and State Attorney General Greg Abbot made high-profile endorsements of the religious messages.
"We will not allow atheist groups from outside of the state of Texas to come into the state, to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics, to try to bully schools to bow down at the altar of secular beliefs," Abbot said in a statement Wednesday.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which is a national group based in Madison, Wis., said that it did not expect a favorable ruling on the case in Texas courts, and that it hoped to take the case to federal court.
"If the school district drops this, what we would like to do is sue the school district, but we have to have a plaintiff," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wis.-based organization.
But she said that finding someone to be named in the lawsuit in Kountze, a predominantly conservative Christian community with a population of about 2,100, is a challenge.
"People who are in the community are afraid to come out of the closet," said Gaylor. "Our complainant is not able to be the plaintiff for that reason."
A Facebook page supporting the cheerleaders had more than 48,300 members on Thursday.
"Our little town is sticking together and standing behind our kids!!!" the introduction to the page states. "Someone has tried to prevent our cheerleaders from ...using religious scriptures on their run-through signs at the football games. This was all led by our children, and they made the decision to give the glory to God this year. We, as a community, will stand up for our kids and make sure they do not lose their voice and their rights in this."
More content from NBCNews.com:
- U.S. nonprofit 'names and shames' businesses to put bite into Iran sanctions
- Same-sex marriage supporters rack up large war chests in state battles
- Snakes in an SUV: Thief steals vehicle full of reptiles
- Video: How dangerous was NYC bomb plot suspect?
- Ocelots, pro baseball pitcher and pipeline builder tangled up in lawsuit