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The following is an archived video story. The text content of that video story is available below for reference. The original video has been deleted and is no longer available.

Kountze ISD attorneys, Liberty Institute comment on appeal of ruling in religious banners case

KOUNTZE – Statement on behalf of law firm representing Kountze ISD

 

The Kountze Independent School District is asking a Texas appeals court to clarify a state district court’s ruling from earlier this month that permits local high school cheerleaders to print religious themes on the “run-through” banners they display at football games.

 

In the earlier ruling, Judge Steve Thomas of the 365th District Court in Hardin County found that the banners were allowed under the U.S. Constitution, but stopped short of saying the cheerleaders have a free speech right to include the religious messages. Attorneys for the cheerleaders maintain that the judge’s decision grants their clients such a right even though Judge Thomas’ ruling does not explicitly say so. The same attorneys also have said they anticipate additional litigation in the case.

 

“We think the attorneys on the other side are reading into the court’s decision rights that just aren’t there,” says attorney Tom Brandt of Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin in Dallas, who represents Kountze ISD. “The school district believes that it is in everyone’s best interests to seek clarification rather than subject the district to additional costly litigation in the future.

 

“The school board’s decision to appeal was not made lightly,” Mr. Brandt says, “particularly given the fact that the district court’s order actually granted some of the relief the school district sought, namely, that Kountze ISD is not required to prohibit religious-themed banners at school sporting events.”

 

Mr. Brandt filed the district’s appeal today in the 9th Court of Appeals in Beaumont.

 

The case began last fall when the run-through banners prompted a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based legal advocacy group that claims the banners violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute, an advocacy organization that represents a few of the cheerleaders, claims the cheerleaders have a free speech right to say whatever they choose on the banners.

 

“The school district has consistently argued for a middle ground,” Mr. Brandt says. “Schools should have the flexibility to make decisions about what messages can go on these banners based on the needs of the school and of the community. The school district has no desire to be hostile to religion, or even to appear hostile by automatically excluding any and all religious-themed messages, nor does it desire to establish any religion. The school district is trying to take a common sense approach to deciding how the banners should represent the school.”

 

KOUNTZE - From Liberty Institute

After losing its case against the cheerleaders earlier this month, Kountze ISD is appealing to the court of appeals.  On May 8, 2013, the Hardin County District Court issued an order granting the Kountze Cheerleaders permission to display run-through banners with Bible messages at Kountze ISD sporting events. That order ended a seven-month stretch of intense and heated litigation between the cheerleaders and Kountze ISD that drew national attention to the small, closely knit community of Kountze, Texas. Liberty Institute and David Starnes represent the Kountze cheerleaders and their parents.

 

“It is unfortunate that Kountze ISD keeps spending taxpayer money fighting against the speech rights of these cheerleaders,” said Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for Liberty Institute.  “I do not understand why the school district cannot simply accept that it lost and move on instead of continuing to fight against these cheerleaders who simply wanted to encourage the players with uplifting messages.”

 

In an effort to share positive and uplifting messages with players and fans, high school and middle school cheerleaders in Kountze, TX, painted Bible verses on their student-made run-through banners at their school football games. After receiving a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Kountze ISD superintendent banned the messages. Then, in September 2012, Beaumont attorney David Starnes and Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit, Coti Matthews on behalf of her minor child, Macy Matthews, et al., v. Kountze Independent School District, on behalf of Kountze ISD cheerleaders and their parents.  In October 2012, the court granted a temporary injunction allowing student-made religious banners to continue until a final decision in the case.

 

Along the way, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened in the case to support the cheerleaders. Then, in May 2013, Hardin County Judge Steven Thomas granted an order permitting the Kountze Cheerleaders to continue displaying run-through banners with Bible messages at Kountze ISD sporting events.  Kountze ISD is appealing that order.  

 

Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our Founding Fathers. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.



 

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