Judge: Cheerleaders can put Bible verses on signs for now
BEAUMONT, Texas (CBS/AP) -
A judge says cheerleaders at a Texas high school's football games can continue carrying banners that feature Bible verses for at least two more weeks.
A judge in Beaumont has issued a temporary restraining order blocking a ban on religious signs at school-sponsored events in the Kountze Independent School District.
For three straight weeks, Kountze High School football players town took the field by bolting through large red-and-white banners that hollered the praises of Jesus Christ.
Most people in Kountze viewed the banners as evidence of the students' admirable moral upbringing - Christianity and the Bible always had been fundamental to this town of 2,100.
But after the Freedom from Religion Foundation told him that a resident had complained about the Bible verses - District Superintendent Kevin Weldon banned the religious messages, including run-through banners at football games.
On Thursday, a judge granted a request by the nonprofit Liberty Institute law firm to temporarily bar the implementation of the ban. It also set a hearing for early October when the sides will be able to make their arguments.
Cheerleader Macy Matthews said no school money was used and the signs weren't made on school property.
Superintendent Kevin Weldon gently explains to every parent who calls that a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court precedent-setting decision requires religion to be kept out of public schools. Some parents support his decision. Others say they will back their children's First Amendment right to hang the banners.
"It is not a personal opinion of mine," Weldon told KVUE-TV. "My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I'm also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that such a practice would be in direct violation of United State Supreme Court decisions."
Weldon himself is torn, but he has to abide by the judge's injunction, and will let the attorneys decide whether to fight the institute.
He added to KVUE-TV that while people in the stands and students are allowed to express their religious beliefs, no person officially representing the school as part of a team or school-sponsored event can.
Liberty Institute senior counsel Mike Johnson says the Supreme Court has ruled that students don't lose their constitutional rights when they enter school.
"It's an important and fundamental freedom students have to engage in free speech," said Mike Johnson, senior counsel for the institute. "They are not asking anyone to believe in Christianity or accept the faith. They are just well wishes."
"I'm actually thankful for (the controversy)," cheerleader Ashton Jennings said to KVUE-TV. "Because if someone hadn't complained, or if there hadn't been any opposition we wouldn't have this chance to spread God's word in this big of a way."