Appeals court rules Texas cheerleaders allowed to display Bible verse banners at football games

KHOU video screenshot

An appeals court ruled Thursday that a Texas school district had already corrected itself, and a lawsuit regarding Bible verses on football banners was moot.

Kountze Independent School District allowed the cheerleaders' Christian banners last year, but retained the right to censor the banners for vulgar or offensive speech.

The district has been embroiled in a legal battle since 2012, when an atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), complained about the Christian messages at Kountze High School football games.

The cheerleaders created banners that read, "If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31," and other scriptures for the football players to run through as they entered the field.

After FFRF complained, the district banned religious messages from the banners.

Christian advocacy and legal defense group, the Liberty Institute represented the cheerleaders, Savannah Short, Macy Matthews, Kieara Moffett and Rebekah Richardson, when they sued the school district for a freedom of speech violation.

District Court Judge Stephen Thomas ruled in favor of the cheerleaders in a May 2013 decision.

"The evidence in the case confirms that religious messages expressed on run-through banners have not created, and will not create, an establishment of religion in the Kountze community," the ruling read.

The school district allowed the cheerleaders' banners, but filed an appeal to receive more clarification on the constitutionality of the religious messages.

Instead of deciding whether the banners were protected speech, the appeals court overturned Thomas' ruling, and declared the lawsuit moot because the school reversed its ban.

"There is no reasonable expectation that the student cheerleaders will suffer the same alleged wrong," the panel wrote in their ruling.

The Liberty Institute was also hoping to receive a concrete decision on the constitutionality of the banners, and expressed disappointment in the appeals court's ruling.

"I don't think it provides any protection for the religious liberties of Kountze cheerleaders in the future," Liberty Institute lead attorney Hiram Sasser told the Associated Press.

Sasser is considering filing an appeal.

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