A Hardin County district judge is expected to rule in a case that pits what one side calls freedom of speech against what the other side calls an establishment clause violation.
A group of Kountze cheerleaders who wish to be able to make and display religious signs during football games say they are using their own money and time to make banners and are fighting for freedom of speech. A complaint lodged against the cheerleaders maintains the signs are unconstitutional and should not be allowed.
The controversy began when the cheerleading squad at Kountze High School was ordered by the superintendent of the Kountze Independent School District to stop displaying the banners. The order came after the district received a letter on September 17, 2012 sent by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The letter said the group was acting on behalf of someone who wished to remain anonymous.
The letter argues that the cheerleaders represent the school and therefore their speech has the same restrictions as the school's speech.
"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, with help from the Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute, filed a lawsuit (Coti Matthews on behalf of her minor child, Macy Matthews, et al., v. Kountze Independent School District) 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 are merely exercising their freedom of speech.
Last October 356th District Court Judge Steve Thomas granted the Kountze cheerleaders a temporary injunction and set a trial date for June. The injunction allowed the signs to be displayed at games until the matter could be examined by the court.
David Starnes is the attorney for the cheerleaders. He says he believes the judge is going to rule in the cheerleader's favor because the school district has since changed its position and agreed the girls did not violate the establishment clause.
Starnes and has called a news conference for 5 p.m. Wednesday to address the case.
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