A judge in Hardin County has made a decision concerning the controversy over signs used by the Kountze Cheerleaders at football games.
356th District Court Judge Steve Thomas Thursday granted the Kountze cheerleaders a temporary injunction. A trial date has been set for June 24, 2013.
Lawyers this morning presented their closing arguments and had a brief meeting with the judge after the hearing.
Closing arguments began at 8 a.m.and wrapped up shortly after 9 a.m.
The controversy began when the cheerleading squad at Kountze High School was ordered by the superintendent of the Kountze Independent School District said it had to stop displaying the banners because the district received a complaint. The complaint was lodged September 17 by a letter sent from Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, who said it was acting on behalf of someone who wished to remain anonymous.
The letter argued that the cheerleaders represent the school and therefore their speech has the same restrictions as the schools.
"Cheerleading for the school is undeniably a school-sponsored activity and the banners displayed by the cheerleaders take place during a school-sponsored event," says a statement from the foundation.
Acting on legal advice, school superintendent Kevin Weldon told the cheerleaders the banners had to go.
Some of the cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the school district after the ban went into place, saying since they make the banners on their free time and pay for the supplies, they should not be denied freedom of speech.
On October 4th, Judge Thomas denied the cheerleaders a temporary injunction, but instead granted a 14-day extension of a temporary restraining order, allowing use of the banners until a decision could be reached in court.
The case has caught the eye of some Texas lawmakers and political leaders. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Tuesday filed a petition of intervention with the Hardin County District Clerk. The petition states he is intervening on behalf of the state because the defense in the case has implied that the Texas Education Code allowing students expression of religious viewpoints is unconstitutional.
Abbott says that since the cheerleaders make the banners with their own money, supplies and time, the issue is a matter of freedom of speech.
Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional. The State of Texas intervened in this case to defend the cheerleaders' right to exercise their personal religious beliefs – and to defend the constitutionality of a state law that protects religious liberties for all Texans," said Abbott in a news release issued Wednesday.
"As government leaders, we owe it to people of all religions to protect expressions of faith, to ensure everyone has the right to voice their opinions and worship as they see fit," Gov. Perry said. "During the upcoming session, we'll continue to find ways to preserve religious expression and explore ways to protect people of faith from this ongoing onslaught," said Perry.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation quickly responded in a written statement saying it is defending freedom of conscience.
"The reprehensible actions of the governor and attorney general are the very reason our founders adopted a First Amendment — to keep local majorities from tyrannizing the minorities, and government officials from using their offices to promote religion," says the statement.