What if Texas cheerleaders wave banners with Koran verses?

In Texas, it is now apparently considered freedom of speech — rather than a violation of the separation of church and state — for cheerleaders at a public high school to display to football game crowds banners with Bible verses written on them.


Kountze High School cheerleaders and children write religious sayings on banners in Texas.(The Beaumont Enterprise, Dave Ryan, File/Associated Press)

A district court judge said that the cheerleaders at Kountze High School in East Texas did not have to put down their banners while the issue is contested in court.

The Kountze Independent School District had said it was forbidden for religious-themed banners to be displayed at a school function, but the cheerleaders couldn’t take the Constitution for an answer, so their families went to court, saying their freedom of speech had been violated.

The Associated Press reported that school officials barred religious messages, such as, “If God is for us, who can be against us.”

The judge, Steve Thomas, issued an injunction last week preventing the district from impeding the cheerleaders in their religious banner-waving activities, saying he did so because:

Plaintiffs have shown a probable injury because the harm is imminent; if the temporary injunction does not issue, the injury would be irreparable; and the applicant has no other adequate legal remedy.

If the temporary injunction is not issued, the Defendants’ unlawful policy
prohibiting private religious expression will remain in effect and the Plaintiffs will
be prohibited from exercising their constitutional and statutory rights at all
football games and other school sporting events.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was delighted at the judge’s ruling, saying, the AP reported, that it was “a victory for all who cherish our inalienable right to freedom of speech and religious expression.” Let it be noted that Perry appointed Thomas to the court to fill a vacancy.

One wonders what Perry would have thought if the banners that the cheerleaders were displaying at school football games came from the Koran, Islam’s holy book. Or from the Yasna, the holy book of Zoroastrianism. Or from the Book of Shadows of the Neopagan religion of Wicca?

Perhaps the answer can be found in Louisiana, where state education officials were only too delighted to hand out taxpayer money for vouchers that students could use at private Christian schools which teach that the Earth is so young that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. But when an Islamic school applied to be eligible for these vouchers, that wasn’t okay.

Here’s a statement on the school district’s Web site, from Superintendent Kevin Weldon:

Cause No. 53526, Coti Matthews, et al., Plaintiffs’, vs. Kountze ISD and Kevin Weldon, in his individual and official capacity as Superintendent. In the District Court, 356th Judicial District, Hardin County, Texas.

“Kountze ISD works hard to foster an atmosphere that values the voices and opinions of all students, teachers and the community. We were pleased to have the opportunity to explain the district’s position regarding this matter in court, recognizing that Kountze ISD must follow all applicable laws in its operations, even if this practice is at times in conflict with personal beliefs of administrators and board members.  Judge Thomas has issued an order granting the Plaintiffs’ application for temporary injunction.  With this phase of the court case completed, the district will continue to focus on the important business of education, which must be our top priority.”

Kevin Weldon
Superintendent, Kountze ISD

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 24, 2012