High school cheerleaders in Texas score a big victory in their fight for freedom of speech.
On Thursday, District Judge Steve Thomas ruled in favor of the cheerleaders who were fighting to display Bible verses on banners at football games.
Thomas said the school district policy against the banners violated their free speech rights. He issued an injunction allowing the Kountze High School cheerleaders to display the banners, pending the outcome of a lawsuit next June.
"I'm really excited. I'm thankful," Rebekah Richardson, one of the school's 18 cheerleaders, said.
She added it was worth going to court to fight for that right.
"I think it is because it's the Word of God, and that's worth a lot," Richardson said.
"I feel good," cheerleader Kieara Moffett said. "I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders as of right now."
School officials said the cheerleaders could not display the banners painted with Scriptures after an atheist group complained it was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation told the school board they were in violation of the law.
"I think it's hard to say that this is the individual free speech rights of the individual cheerleaders rather than something that's a sponsored school event," Thomas Brandt, attorney for the Kountze Independent School District, argued.
"So, if you're in the hallway between classes, or you happen to be on a football field, and you are a student, you are still an American citizen," Mike Johnson, with the Texas Attorney General's office, countered. "You don't shed your rights to free speech, and that's why this is protected. Here we have a quintessential example of student-led, student-initiated free speech. That's why it's completely protected by the Constitution."
"We think that's support for our position, and we think it's strong support because the governor also weighed in and thought that this was something that should be allowed in the school districts in Texas," David Starnes, attorney for the cheerleaders, said.
Earlier this week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and state Attorney General Greg Abbot backed the Kountze High School cheerleaders' right to keep using the banners.
"There's a reality here and that is that the First Amendment does not demand hostility toward religion, nor does it demand silence on the part of students in this state or in this country," Abbott said.
Gov. Perry said the cheerleaders "should be celebrated."
Cheerleader Macy Matthews, 15, said the banner at tonight's game will say, "All things which are impossible with men are possible with God."